Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Nitrogen in the soil cleans the air

19.08.2011
Nitrogen-containing soil is a source of hydroxyl radicals that remove pollutants from the atmosphere

Eutrophication harms the environment in many ways. Unexpectedly, nitrogen fertilizer may also be positive for the environment. And even acidic soils, promoting the destruction of forests, can have a positive effect.

Researchers from the Biogeochemistry Department at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz found out that nitrogen fertilizer indirectly strengthens the self-cleaning capacity of the atmosphere. Their study shows that nitrous acid is formed in fertilized soil and released to the atmosphere, whereby the amount increases with increasing soil acidity. In the air, nitrous acid leads to the formation of hydroxyl radicals oxidizing pollutants that then can be washed out. Previously, this nitrogen-effect has not been taken into account by geoscientists. The gap has now been closed by the Max Planck researchers.

Our air partly cleans itself as pollutants are being oxidized by hydroxyl radicals and washed out by rain. Now, researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Mainz and colleagues in Beijing have discovered the origin of a bulk part of the nitrous acid that is acting beside ozone as a source of hydroxyl radicals. According to their studies, large quantities of the acid are released into the atmosphere from soil. In nitrogen-rich soils the acid is formed from nitrite ions produced through microbiological transformations of ammonium and nitrate ions. The more acidic the soil is and the more nitrite it contains, the more nitrous acid is released. Through this pathway some of the nitrogen in fertilized soil escapes into the air.

In the latest issue of the journal Science, the Mainz researchers describe how they demonstrated the existence of this previously unnoticed pathway in the nitrogen cycle. They measured the concentration of HONO – a chemical term for gaseous nitrous acid – that escaped from a defined volume of arable soil. They added nitrite to a soil sample and varied its water content. The quantity of released HONO closely matched the researchers' estimates based on acid/base and solubility equilibria. Based on these findings they can also explain why previous studies had measured high levels of HONO in the air above fertilized agricultural soil.

The source of the high concentrations of HONO observed in the lower atmosphere had long been a mystery. "Soil is a complex system involving interactions between countless chemicals and biological organisms,” says Hang Su, the lead author of the paper. “Before us, no one seems to have investigated the soil-atmosphere exchange of nitrous acid".

The fact that soil emits HONO is not just locally, but also globally significant for air quality and the nitrogen cycle. "Next, we plan to work across disciplines with soil and climate researchers to quantify the effect in different types of soil and under different environmental conditions", adds research group leader Ulrich Pöschl. The findings will then be incorporated into a global model.

The Max Planck researchers suspect that soil-based HONO emissions could strongly increase especially in developing countries due to more extensive fertilization, soil acidification, and climate-related rise in temperature. This is expected to produce more hydroxyl radicals, which increase the oxidizing power of the air.

The Max Planck Institute for Chemistry
Around 260 people work at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, researching the earth and its environment at various levels from nanoparticles to planets and from ecosystem dynamics to global climate change. There are three departments studying the earth system in field studies, under lab conditions and with the aid of computer-assisted modeling. The institute is helping develop our understanding of the earth's natural resources and providing the solutions for sustainable use of our planet and environmental protection. The institute's International Research School and E-learning program are an active contribution to scientific education. The Max Planck Institute for Chemistry is actively involved in the event program of the City of Science in Mainz in 2011. Next year the Institute celebrates its 100th anniversary.

More Information: http://www.mpic.de

Original publication:
Hang Su, Yafang Cheng, Robert Oswald, Thomas Behrendt, Ivonne Trebs, Franz X. Meixner, Meinrat O. Andreae, Peng Cheng, Yuanhang Zhang & Ulrich Pöschl
Soil nitrite as a source of atmospheric HONO and OH radicals
Science, August 18, 2011
Contact:
Dr. Hang Su
Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz
Tel.: +49 6131-305 426
E-mail: h.su@mpic.de
Dr. Ulrich Pöschl
Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Mainz
Tel.: +49 6131-305 422
E-mail: u.poschl@mpic.de

Dr. Wolfgang Huisl | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:
http://www.mpic.de

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Predicting eruptions using satellites and math
28.06.2017 | Frontiers

nachricht NASA sees quick development of Hurricane Dora
27.06.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersensitive through quantum entanglement

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy under real ambient pressure conditions

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Mice provide insight into genetics of autism spectrum disorders

28.06.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>