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Current atmospheric nitrogen deposition still exceeds critical loads for sensitive, semi-natural ecosystems in Switzerland

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Kosonen Zaida, Schnyder Elvira, Hiltbrunner Erika, Thimonier Anne, Schmitt Maria, Seitler Eva, Thöni Lotti,
Project ICOS-CH Phase 2
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Atmospheric Environment
Volume (Issue) 211
Page(s) 214 - 225
Title of proceedings Atmospheric Environment
DOI 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2019.05.005

Abstract

Increased atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition is driving nutrient imbalances, soil acidification, biodiversity losses and the long-term reduction in stability of sensitive ecosystems which previously had limited N. In this study, we analysed the concentrations of seven different N compounds in precipitation and in the air at 34 sites across Switzerland. We calculated the N deposition by precipitation (bulk deposition) and applied the inferential method to derive dry deposition (gases, aerosols) from air concentrations. We then quantified the total inorganic N deposition by adding together the bulk and dry deposition. Finally, the total inorganic N input into the sensitive ecosystems of the 34 sites was compared to the critical loads of these ecosystems. N deposition by precipitation was the main contributor to the total N load in 16 out of 34 sites, especially into open ecosystems such as alpine/subalpine grassland, mountain hay meadows, and raised bogs. Dry deposition of ammonia (NH3) was the second most important pathway, in particular for forests close to agricultural activities, due to high NH3 concentrations and the higher deposition velocity. The N deposition exceeded the lower limit of the Critical Load of Nitrogen (CLN) range at most sites, and at many sites even surpassed the upper limit of the CLN range. No, or minor, exceedances of the critical loads for N were found only at remote sites at higher elevation in the Central Alps. Annual inorganic N deposition between 2000 and 2017 revealed a significant decline in oxidised N compounds at four of five sites (−1.6–1.8% per year), but reduced compounds only decreased at two sites (−1% and −1.4% per year) and even increased at one site (+1.2% per year), despite adopted abatement strategies for agricultural practices. This emphasises that most sensitive ecosystems in Switzerland continue to be exposed to excessive N loads through atmospheric deposition, with detrimental consequences for the biodiversity and stability of these ecosystems.
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