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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Observations of atmospheric reactive nitrogen species and nitrogen deposition in the Rocky Mountains
by Benedict, Katherine B., Ph.D., Colorado State University, 2012, 359; 3551592
Abstract (Summary)

Many national parks are experiencing increased nitrogen deposition due to increased emissions of reactive nitrogen, especially in the western United States. Excess nitrogen deposition can adversely impact ecosystem function, in some cases leading to degradation of water quality and forest decline. One region of particular interest is the Rocky Mountains, where large increases in wet deposition of oxidized and reduced nitrogeN·have been observed in recent decades. Here we present results from several field campaigns in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and a field campaign in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) focused on identifying important nitrogen deposition pathways and factors that are contributing to nitrogen deposition.

To understand nitrogen deposition in RMNP we focused on understanding the spatial variability of reactive nitrogen concentrations across the state of Colorado. We observed large gradients in the reactive nitrogen species that reflected the different source regions across the state. In eastern Colorado, home to large agricultural operations, we observed high concentrations of ammonia and ammonium. Concentrations decreased moving westward toward the Front Range urban corridor and the Rocky Mountains. Concentrations of nitric acid, an important oxidation product of nitrogen oxides emissions, were highest in the Front Range urban corridor. Concentrations of gaseous ammonia and nitric acid were much lower in RMNP than at the sites to the east. Particle concentrations of ammonium and nitrate were generally lower in RMNP as well; however, concentration gradients were sometimes not as strong as for the gas phase compounds.

Wet deposition of ammonium and nitrate were the two largest reactive nitrogen deposition pathways in RMNP, yielding inputs of 1.97 kg N·ha -1 or 56% of total nitrogen deposition. Dry deposition of ammonia and wet deposition of organic nitrogen were the next most important deposition pathways; together they accounted for 40% (1.37 kg N·ha-1) of annual total nitrogen deposition. These two pathways are of special interest because they have not historically been monitored as part of regional deposition budgets. The remaining deposition pathways (dry deposition of nitric acid, and PM2.5 ammonium, nitrate, and organic nitrogen) accounted for approximately 3% of total nitrogen deposition.

In GTNP there was a strong gradient in ammonia concentrations, with higher average concentrations to the west (0.6 µg/m3) and lower average concentrations to the east (0.3 µg/m3), consistent with the presence of large agricultural operations west of the park. Concentrations of nitric acid, nitrate, and ammonium did not exhibit any clear spatial trends. Ammonia concentrations were higher at GTNP than at RMNP while PM2.5 nitrate and ammonium concentrations were similar in the two regions. Average nitric acid concentrations were similar between the two parks as well, with the exception of one high elevation GTNP site where higher concentrations were observed. Wet deposition of ammonium and dry deposition of ammonia were the largest reactive nitrogen deposition pathways in GTNP followed by wet deposition of nitrate and wet deposition of organic nitrogen.

Previous ecological assessments have led to the establishment of a critical load for wet deposition of inorganic nitrogen to RMNP and GTNP. A critical load is the maximum level of nitrogen input that can be sustained by an ecosystem without irreversible damage like loss of biodiversity. Our observations reveal that the critical load is currently being exceeded in both RMNP and GTNP. It is important to recognize that substantial additional inputs of reactive nitrogen are occurring in both parks through dry deposition of ammonia and wet deposition of organic nitrogen. Neither pathway is currently considered in the U.S. critical load framework. In both RMNP and GTNP organic nitrogen was an important component of deposition. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Collett, Jeffrey L., Jr.
Commitee: Hamm, Jay, Kreidenweis, Sonia M., van den Heever, Susan C.
School: Colorado State University
Department: Atmospheric Science
School Location: United States -- Colorado
Source: DAI-B 74/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Atmospheric Chemistry, Atmospheric sciences
Keywords: Ammonia, Grand Teton National Park, Nitrogen deposition, Organic nitrogen, Rocky Mountain National Park
Publication Number: 3551592
ISBN: 978-1-267-89467-0
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