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Scientific journal publication

Rainwater Chemistry and Total Deposition of Acidity from the Northern Savanna to the Southern Coastal Fynbos of South Africa

Mompati, Mpho K.; Piketh, Stuart J.; Aas, Wenche; van Zyl, Pieter Gideon; Pienaar, Jacobus J.; Curtis, Christopher J.

Publication details

Journal: Water, Air and Soil Pollution, vol. 233, 275, 2022

Doi: doi.org/10.1007/s11270-022-05714-6

South Africa is the largest national source of industrial atmospheric pollutants in Africa, and the emission of acid-forming pollutants occurs mainly in the eastern Highveld region of the country. However, spatial information on deposition is very sparse beyond the primary emissions zone. Here we quantify wet and dry deposition at four sites from the far northern savanna (Vaalwater) through the grasslands of the interior coal-producing belt of Mpumalanga (Elandsfontein) and the remote KwaZulu Natal Drakensberg mountains (Cathedral Peak) to the fynbos of the southern coast of the country (Knysna), a distance of over 1200 km. Rainwater samples were collected using automated wet-only samplers and analysed for mineral ions and water-soluble organic acids. Wet deposition fluxes were driven largely by rainfall amount rather than differences in chemical composition for three inland sites, with the highest wet deposited sulphur (S) (5.1 kgS/ha/year) and nitrogen (N) (6.9 kgN/ha/year) found in the Drakensberg mountains, greatly expanding the potentially harmful deposition footprint beyond the industrialised Highveld zone. Furthermore, the study period covered the extreme drought years of 2015–2016; hence, wet deposition fluxes could be significantly underestimated relative to more average rainfall years. Dry deposition fluxes, estimated using passive samplers and inferential methods, were far higher at the industrial Highveld site. Overall, total (wet + dry) deposition of S was greatest at the Highveld site (12.0 kgS/ha/year), but the greatest total N deposition (7.0 kgN/ha/year) was found at the remote Drakensberg site. Measured levels of both S and N deposition are well within the ranges found to cause acidification of soils and surface waters in northern hemisphere studies, or changes in vegetation species composition, and could be much higher in more typical, wetter years.