The atmosphere in Europe is polluted by easily available nitrogen (ammonium and nitrate) mainly from livestock (NH3), traffic (NOx) and stationary combustion sources (NOx). The nitrogen emission from various European sources decreases in the order: agriculture, road traffic, stationary sources and other mobile sources (including vehicular emissions from agriculture), with annual emissions of approximately 4.9, 2.7, 2.7 and 0.8 Mt N respectively. The emissions have increased dramatically during the latest decades. In the atmosphere the pollutants are oxidised to more water soluble compounds that are washed out by clouds and eventually brought back to the earth's surface again. Since ammonia is emitted in a highly water soluble form it will also to a substantial degree be dry deposited near the source. Ammonia is, however, the dominant basic compound in the atmosphere and will form salts with acidic gases. These salt particles can be transported long distances especially in the absence of clouds.
The deposition close to the source is substantial, but hard to estimate due to interaction with other pollutants. Far from the source the deposition of ammonium is on an annual average halved approximately every 400 km. This short transport distance and the substantial deposition near the source makes it possible for countries to control their ammonium deposition by decreasing their emissions, provided that there is no country with much higher emission in the direction of the prevailing wind trajectory. When the easily available nitrogen is deposited on natural ecosystems (lakes, forests), negative effect can occur. The effect is determined by the magnitude of the deposition and the type of ecosystems (its critical load for nitrogen). In order to reduce the negative effects by controlling the emissions in a cost-efficient way it is necessary to use atmospheric transport models and critical loads.
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Ferm, M. Atmospheric ammonia and ammonium transport in Europe and critical loads: a review. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 51, 5–17 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009780030477
- ammonium transport
- atmospheric ammonium