Publication Details

Seasonal sulfate deposition and export patterns for a small Appalachian watershed

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Edwards, Pamela J.; Gregory, James D.; Allen, H. Lee

Year Published



Water, Air, and Soil Pollution. 110: 137-155.


Sulfate deposition and exports from 1988–92 were analyzed for a small headwater catchment in north-centralWest Virginia.Annual sulfate inputs, estimated by applying throughfall-adjusted ratios to bulk deposition values, and outputs were approximately equal for the five years. Annual mean throughfall-adjusted deposition and export loads were 55.78 and 55.48 kg ha−1, respectively. While these results indicate the watershed has reached sulfate equilibrium relative to current deposition levels, seasonal sulfate accumulations and deficits were evident. Deposition and exports averaged 5.61 and 2.49 kg ha−1 mo−1, respectively, during the growing season, and 3.69 and 5.22 kg ha−1 mo−1 during the dormant season. Sulfur accumulated within the soil during the growing season because inputs of wet and dry sulfur deposition were high while outputs were negligible. The latter was due largely to the lack of runoff resulting from high evapotranspirational demands. By contrast, net sulfate losses occurred during dormant seasons, primarily due to high runoff, even though inputs declined during this season. Researchers working on other watersheds have interpreted similar input/output patterns to mean that sulfate accumulated during the growing season is the source of sulfate exported during the dormant season. However, radioisotopic evidence from a companion study on this watershed showed that some labeled sulfate applied to the watershed more than a year earlier was still present in the organic and mineral soil layers at the point of application (with some as soluble sulfate), and in soil water dispersed throughout the watershed. Its presence indicates that dormant season exports can originate from sulfate deposited over longer periods than just the previous growing season or even previous year. Volume-weighted concentrations in soil leachate suggest that dormant-season sulfate losses resulted from progressive depletion of the anion through the soil profile. During the fall and early winter, soluble sulfate was depleted in the upper soil horizons; in later winter, depletion occurred in the lower horizons.


Edwards, Pamela J.; Gregory, James D.; Allen, H. Lee. 1999. Seasonal sulfate deposition and export patterns for a small Appalachian watershed. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution. 110: 137-155.

Last updated on: February 26, 2018