Roads as nitrogen deposition hot spots Academic Article uri icon


  • 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 NH? ?. 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 %.

publication date

  • July 2013