Atmospheric Nitrogen Deposition in the Western United States: Sources, Sinks, and Changes over Time
Anderson, Sarah Marie
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Anthropogenic activities have greatly modified the way nitrogen moves through the atmosphere and terrestrial and aquatic environments. Excess reactive nitrogen generated through fossil fuel combustion, industrial fixation, and intensification of agriculture is not confined to anthropogenic systems but leaks into natural ecosystems with consequences including acidification, eutrophication, and biodiversity loss. A better understanding of where excess nitrogen originates and how that changes over time is crucial to identifying when, where, and to what degree environmental impacts occur. A major route into ecosystems for excess nitrogen is through atmospheric deposition. Excess nitrogen is emitted to the atmosphere where it can be transported great distances before being deposited back to the Earth’s surface. Analyzing the composition of atmospheric nitrogen deposition and biological indicators that reflect deposition can provide insight into the emission sources as well as processes and atmospheric chemistry that occur during transport and what drives variation in these sources and processes. Chapter 1 provides a review and proof of concept of lichens to act as biological indicators and how their elemental and stable isotope composition can elucidate variation in amounts and emission sources of nitrogen over space and time. Information on amounts and emission sources of nitrogen deposition helps inform natural resources and land management decisions by helping to identify potentially impacted areas and causes of those impacts. Chapter 2 demonstrates that herbaria lichen specimens and field lichen samples reflect historical changes in atmospheric nitrogen deposition from urban and agricultural sources across the western United States. Nitrogen deposition increases throughout most of the 20th century because of multiple types of emission sources until the implementation of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 eventually decrease nitrogen deposition around the turn of the 21st century. Chapter 3 focuses on how nitrogen emissions and subsequent deposition are affected by processes and chemistry during atmospheric transport through analysis of the oxygen isotope composition of nitrate in wet deposition. Local emission sources drive spatial variation, changes in solar radiation drive seasonal variation, and variability in atmospheric conditions and transport drive interannual variation in the processes and chemistry occurring during atmospheric transport of reactive nitrogen.