A chronology of nitrogen deposition in the UK between 1900 and 2000

D. Fowler, M. O'Donoghue, J. B. A. Muller, R. I. Smith, U. Dragosits, U. Skiba, M. A. Sutton, P. Brimblecombe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Citations (Scopus)


Measurements of the concentrations of nitrogen compounds in air and precipitation in the UK have been made since the mid-19th century, but no networks operating to common protocols and having traceable analytical procedures were established until the 1950s. From 1986 onwards, a high-quality network of sampling stations for precipitation chemistry was established across the UK. In the following decade, monitoring networks provided measurement of NO2, NH3, HNO3 and a satisfactory understanding of the dry deposition process for these gases allowed dry deposition to be quantified. Maps of N deposition for oxidized and reduced compounds at a spatial scale of 5 km × 5 km are available from 1986 to 2000. Between 1950 and 1985, the more limited measurements, beginning with those of the European Air Chemistry Network (EACN) provide a reasonable basis to estimate wet deposition of NO

−N and NH
−N. For the first half of the century, estimates of deposition were scaled with emissions assuming a constant relationship between emission and deposition for each of the components of the wet and dry deposition budget at the country scale. Emissions of oxidized N, which dominated total nitrogen emissions throughout the century, increased from 312 kt N annually in 1900 to a peak of 787 kt for the decade 1980–1990 and then declined to 460 kt in 2000. Emissions of reduced N, largely from coal combustion were about 168 kt N in 1900, increasing to a peak of 263 kt N in 2000 and by now dominated by agricultural sources. Reduced N dominated the deposition budget at the country scale, increasing from 163 kt N in 1900 to 211 kt N in 2000, while deposition of oxidized N was 66 kt N in 1900 and 191 kt N in 2000. Over the century, 68 Mt (Tg) of fixed N was emitted within the UK, 78% as NOx, while 29 Mt of nitrogen was deposited (43% of emissions), equivalent to 1.2 t N ha−1, on average, with 60% in the reduced form. Deposition to semi-natural ecosystems is approximately 15 Tg N, equivalent to between 1 and 5 t N ha−1, over the century and appears to be accumulating in soil. The N deposition over the century is similar in magnitude to the total soil N inventory in surface horizons.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-23
Number of pages15
JournalWater, Air, and Soil Pollution
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2004

Cite this