Plant and Soil

, Volume 228, Issue 1, pp 17–27 | Cite as

Exchange of gaseous nitrogen compounds between agricultural systems and the atmosphere

  • Arvin R Mosier


Crop and livestock agricultural production systems are important contributors to local, regional and global budgets of NH3, NOx (NO + NO2) and N2O. Emissions of NH3 and NOx (which are biologically and chemically active) into the atmosphere serve to redistribute fixed N to local and regional aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems that may otherwise be disconnected from the sources of the N gases. The emissions of NOx also contribute to local elevated ozone concentrations while N2O emissions contribute to global greenhouse gas accumulation and to stratospheric ozone depletion.

Ammonia is the major gaseous base in the atmosphere and serves to neutralize about 30% of the hydrogen ions in the atmosphere. Fifty to 75% of the ≈ 55 Tg N yr−1 NH3 from terrestrial systems is emitted from animal and crop-based agriculture from animal excreta and synthetic fertilizer application. About half of the 50 Tg N yr−1 of NOx emitted from the earth surface annually arises from fossil fuel combustion and the remainder from biomass burning and emissions from soil. The NOx emitted, principally as nitric oxide (NO), reacts rapidly in the atmosphere and in a complex cycle with light, ozone and hydrocarbons, and produces nitric acid and particulate nitrate. These materials can interact with plants and the soil locally or be transported form the site and interact with atmospheric particulate to form aerosols. These salts and aerosols return to fertilize terrestrial and aquatic systems in wet and dry deposition. A small fraction of this N may be biologically converted to N2O. About 5% of the total atmospheric greenhouse effect is attributed to N2O from which 70% of the annual global anthropogenic emissions come from animal and crop production.

The coupling of increased population with a move of a large sector of the world population to diets that require more energy and N input, will lead to continued increases in anthropogenic input into the global N cycle. This scenario suggests that emissions of NH3, NOx and N2O from agricultural systems will continue to increase and impact global terrestrial and aquatic systems, even those far removed from agricultural production, to an ever growing extent, unless N resources are used more efficiently or food consumption trends change.

ammonia nitric oxide nitrous oxide NOx N-deposition 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arvin R Mosier
    • 1
  1. 1.U.S. Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research ServiceFort CollinsUSA*

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