Isotopic constraints on the atmospheric sources and formation of nitrogenous species in clouds influenced by biomass burning

Chang, Yunhua; Zhang, Yan-Lin; Li, Jiarong; Tian, Chongguo; Song, Linlin; Zhai, Xiaoyao; Zhang, Wenqi; Huang, Tong; Lin, Yu-Chi; Zhu, Chao; Fang, Yunting; Lehmann, Moritz F.; Chen, Jianmin

Predicting tropospheric cloud formation and subsequent nutrient deposition relies on understanding the sources and processes affecting aerosol constituents of the atmosphere that are preserved in cloud water. However, this challenge is difficult to address quantitatively based on the sole use of bulk chemical properties. Nitrogenous aerosols, mainly ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NO3-), play a particularly important role in tropospheric cloud formation. While dry and wet (mainly rainfall) deposition of NH4+ and NO3- are regularly assessed, cloud water deposition is often underappreciated. Here we collected cloud water samples at the summit of Mt. Tai (1545 m above sea level) in eastern China during a long-lasting biomass burning (BB) event and simultaneously measured for the first time the isotopic compositions (mean ±1σ) of cloud water nitrogen species (δ15N-NH4+ = 6.53 ‰ ± 4.96 ‰, δ15N-NO3-=2.35 ‰ ± 2.00 ‰, δ18O-NO3- = 57.80 ‰ ± 4.23 ‰), allowing insights into their sources and potential transformation mechanism within the clouds. Large contributions of BB to the cloud water NH4+ (32.9 % ± 4.6 %) and NO3- (28.2 % ± 2.7 %) inventories were confirmed through a Bayesian isotopic mixing model, coupled with our newly developed computational quantum chemistry module. Despite an overall reduction in total anthropogenic NOx emission due to effective emission control actions and stricter emission standards for vehicles, the observed cloud δ15N-NO3- values suggest that NOx emissions from transportation may have exceeded emissions from coal combustion. δ18O-NO3- values imply that the reaction of OH with NO2 is the dominant pathway of NO3- formation (57 % ± 11 %), yet the contribution of heterogeneous hydrolysis of dinitrogen pentoxide was almost as important (43 % ± 11 %). Although the limited sample set used here results in a relatively large uncertainty with regards to the origin of cloud-associated nitrogen deposition, the high concentrations of inorganic nitrogen imply that clouds represent an important source of nitrogen, especially for nitrogen-limited ecosystems in remote areas. Further simultaneous and long-term sampling of aerosol, rainfall, and cloud water is vital for understanding the anthropogenic influence on nitrogen deposition in the study region.



Chang, Yunhua / Zhang, Yan-Lin / Li, Jiarong / et al: Isotopic constraints on the atmospheric sources and formation of nitrogenous species in clouds influenced by biomass burning. 2019. Copernicus Publications.


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