The United States exports nitrogen pollution beyond its borders, and some of this nitrogen may end up in Western Europe, according to a recent data analysis by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of New Hampshire. Most of the nitrogen pollution produced in Western Europe is deposited within its own boundaries, the authors found. The findings are an important step in quantifying total U.S. pollution export for policy makers. The study was published in the February issue of the journal Ecological Applications.
Nitrogen pollution degrades air and water quality and alters terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems worldwide, with profound consequences for human health and agriculture.
Atmospheric nitrogen emission and deposition are out of balance for the continental United States but more closely balanced in Europe, the authors found when they analyzed data gathered between 1978 and 1994. Only 40% of U.S. nitrogen released into the atmosphere as trace gases, including nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia (NH3), was found deposited within U.S. boundaries during the study period. Between 5.30 and 7.81 million metric tons (5.83 and 8.59 million U.S. tons) of total NOx and NH3 were unaccounted for and possibly transported elsewhere each year, the authors estimate.
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