Fluxes and reservoirs of trichloroacetic acid at a forest and moorland catchment

R. T. Stidson, C. A. Dickey, J. N. Cape, Katherine V. Heal, Mathew R. Heal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The concentrations and input/output fluxes of trichloroacetic acid (TCA) were measured in all relevant media for one year at a 0.86 km2 upland conifer plantation and moorland catchment in SW Scotland (n > 380 separate samples analyzed). Annual wet precipitation to the catchment was 2.5 and 0.4 m for rain and cloud, respectively. TCA input to the catchment for the year was 2100 g, predominantly in rainwater (86%), with additional input via cloudwater (13%) and gas plus particle dry deposition (1%). There were no seasonal trends in TCA deposition, and cloudwater concentration was not enhanced over rainwater. TCA in precipitation exceeded concentrations estimated using currently accepted routes of gas-phase oxidation from anthropogenic chlorinated hydrocarbon precursors, in agreement with previous studies. Export of TCA from the catchment in streamwater totalled 1970 g for the year of study. The TCA concentration in streamwater at outflow (median 1.2 μg L-1) was significantly greater than that before the stream had passed through the conifer plantation. To well-within measurement uncertainties, the catchment is currently at steady-state with respect to TCA input/output. The catchment reservoir of TCA was dominated by soils (90%), with the remainder distributed in forest litter (9%), forest branchwood and stemwood (0.7%), forest foliage (0.5%), and moorland foliage (0.1%). Although TCA is clearly taken up into foliage, which consequently may be important for the vegetation, this was a relatively minor process for TCA at the catchment scale. If it is assumed, on the basis of laboratory extraction experiments, that only 20% of “whole soil” TCA measured in this work was water extractable, then total mass of TCA in the catchment is reduced from 13 to 3.5 kg. Comparing the latter value with the annual flux yields an average steady-state residence time for TCA in the catchment of 1−2 y, if all TCA is involved in catchment turnover. Considering that other evidence indicates the lifetime of TCA in soil and biota is considerably shorter than this (weeks rather than years), the magnitude of the TCA reservoir is suggested to be strong evidence for net natural TCA production in soils and/or that the majority of TCA in the reservoir is not involved with external fluxes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1639-1647
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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