Nitrogen isotopes as indicators of NO(x) source contributions to atmospheric nitrate deposition across the midwestern and northeastern United States. Academic Article uri icon


  • Global inputs of NO(x) are dominated by fossil fuel combustion from both stationary and vehicular sources and far exceed natural NO(x) sources. However, elucidating NO(x) sources to any given location remains a difficult challenge, despite the need for this information to develop sound regulatory and mitigation strategies. We present results from a regional-scale study of nitrogen isotopes (delta15N) in wet nitrate deposition across 33 sites in the midwestern and northeastern U.S. We demonstrate that spatial variations in delta15N are strongly correlated with NO(x) emissions from surrounding stationary sources and additionally that delta15N is more strongly correlated with surrounding stationary source NO(x) emissions than pH, SO4(2-), or NO3- concentrations. Although emission inventories indicate that vehicle emissions are the dominant NO(x) source in the eastern U.S., our results suggest that wet NO3- deposition at sites in this study is strongly associated with NO(x) emissions from stationary sources. This suggests that large areas of the landscape potentially receive atmospheric NO(y) deposition inputs in excess of what one would infer from existing monitoring data alone. Moreover, we determined that spatial patterns in delta15N values are a robust indicator of stationary NO(x) contributions to wet NO3- deposition and hence a valuable complement to existing tools for assessing relationships between NO3- deposition, regional emission inventories, and for evaluating progress toward NO(x) reduction goals.

publication date

  • November 15, 2007