, Volume 114, Issue 1–3, pp 149–163 | Cite as

Roads as nitrogen deposition hot spots

  • Neil D. BettezEmail author
  • Roxanne Marino
  • Robert W. Howarth
  • Eric A. Davidson
Synthesis and Emerging Ideas


Mobile sources are the single largest source of nitrogen emissions to the atmosphere in the US. It is likely that a portion of mobile-source emissions are deposited adjacent to roads and thus not measured by traditional monitoring networks, which were designed to measure long-term and regional trends in deposition well away from emission sources. To estimate the magnitude of near-source nitrogen deposition, we measured concentrations of both dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and total dissolved nitrogen (inorganic + organic) (TDN) in throughfall (i.e., the nitrogen that comes through the forest canopy) along transects perpendicular to two moderately trafficked roads on Cape Cod in Falmouth MA, coupled with measurements of both DIN and TDN in bulk precipitation made in adjacent open fields at the same transect distances. We used the TDN throughfall data to estimate total nitrogen deposition, including dry gaseous nitrogen deposition in addition to wet deposition and dry particle deposition. There was no difference in TDN in the bulk collectors along the transects at either site; however TDN in the throughfall collectors was always higher closest to the road and decreased with distance. These patterns were driven primarily by differences in the inorganic N and not the organic N. Annual throughfall deposition was 8.7 (±0.4) and 6.8 (±0.5) TDN kg N ha−1 year−1 at sites 10 and 150 m away from the road respectively. We also characterized throughfall away from a non-road edge (power line right-of-way) to test whether the increased deposition observed near road edges was due to deposition near emission sources or due to a physical, edge effect causing higher deposition. The increased deposition we observed near roads was due to increases in inorganic N especially NH4 +. This increased deposition was not the result of an edge effect; rather it is due to near source deposition of mobile source emissions. We scaled these results to the entire watershed and estimate that by not taking into account the effects of increased gaseous N deposition from mobile sources we are underestimating the amount of N deposition to the watershed by 13–25 %.


Nitrogen deposition Roadside Forest edges Throughfall 



This research was supported by Woods Hole SeaGrant (Grant NA06OAR4170021), NSF IGERT (Grant DGE 0221658), an Edna Bailey Sussman Environmental Internship Award from Cornell University, and a Mellon Foundation award though Cornell University. We thank Peter Groffman, Gary Lovett, Christy Goodale, Jed Sparks, and Thomas Butler for helpful discussions during this study. We are grateful to Katerina Bulygina, Wendy Kingerlee, and Kathleen Savage for technical assistance in laboratory; Shannon Siart, Richard Wilson, and Mohammed Pervaiz, for help in the field; and Tom Stone for all his work on the GIS classification; and two reviewers for their useful and insightful comments. We appreciate the generosity of the Waquoit Bay Estuarine Research Reserve for allowing us to use their research site; the Woods Hole Research Center for allowing us the use of their property and analytical laboratory; and the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory for laboratory and office space.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Neil D. Bettez
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Roxanne Marino
    • 1
    • 2
  • Robert W. Howarth
    • 1
    • 2
  • Eric A. Davidson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Ecosystems CenterMarine Biological LaboratoryWoods HoleUSA
  3. 3.Woods Hole Research CenterWoods HoleUSA
  4. 4.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA

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