Controls on the water chemistry of headwater streams: synthesis and regional modelling

Thornton, Gareth Jason Paul (2000). Controls on the water chemistry of headwater streams: synthesis and regional modelling. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e2e6

Abstract

An understanding of the dominant processes controlling streamwater chemistry is critical for the development of a regional water quality model. The relative importance of a variety of catchment characteristics in determining streamwater chemistry in the English Lake District is investigated in this thesis. Fifty-five streams were sampled on a bimonthly basis over the period May 1996 through March 1997.

Rock samples were analysed using X-ray fluorescence analysis. The major- and trace element geochemical data was used to classify the suite into six rock types. The geochemical data was also used to establish weathering patterns, which suggested that greywackes and lithic arenites weather the easiest, andesites and dacites exhibit heterogeneous weathering and the metamorphosed slate and granite are the most resistant to weathering.

Forty-one (75%) of the streams can be considered sensitive to acidification on the basis of their alkalinity and thirty-eight (69%) can be considered sensitive to acidification on the basis of their calcium concentrations. Statistical analyses showed that flow-weighted concentrations of alkalinity and base cations were lowest in the catchments with resistant bedrock, thin or peaty soils, at high altitudes or receiving relatively high loads of sulphur and nitrogen deposition.

A multiple regression model incorporating some of these factors provided a fairly good approximation of alkalinity concentrations on a spatial (R2 value of 56%) and temporal scale (R2 value of 49%). The predicted alkalinity was within 50 µeq l-1 of the observed (simulated) values for 77% of the sites.

Although the model has a fairly good predictive capability, its spatial and temporal applicability outside the study area is an unknown quantity. To satisfy the needs of policy makers and the hydrological community, the model needs to predict alkalinity with a high degree of accuracy in a variety of study areas. This has not been tested as yet, however, the variables used in the final model are not unique to the Lake District or the 1990's and therefore the model may prove to be an extremely useful tool indeed.

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