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Atmospheric nitrogen deposition in the Chesapeake Bay watershed: A history of change

February 23, 2021

The Chesapeake Bay watershed has been the focus of pioneering studies of the role of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition as a nutrient source and driver of estuarine trophic status. Here, we review the history and evolution of scientific investigations of the role of atmospheric N deposition, examine trends from wet and dry deposition networks, and present century-long (1950–2050) atmospheric N deposition estimates. Early investigations demonstrated the importance of atmospheric deposition as an N source to the Bay, providing 25%–40% among all major N sources. These early studies led to the unprecedented inclusion of targeted decreases in atmospheric N deposition as part of the multi-stakeholder effort to reduce N loads to the Bay. Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and deposition of wet nitrate, oxidized dry N, and dry ammonium (NH4+) sharply and synchronously declined by 60%–73% during 1995–2019. These decreases largely resulted from implementation of Title IV of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, which began in 1995. Wet NH4+ deposition shows no significant trend during this period. The century-long atmospheric N deposition estimates indicate an increase in total atmospheric N deposition in the Chesapeake watershed from 1950 to a peak of ~15 kg N/ha/yr in 1979, trailed by a slight decline of <10% through the mid-1990s, and followed by a sharp decline of about 40% thereafter through 2019. An additional 21% decline in atmospheric N deposition is projected from 2015 to 2050. A comparison of the Potomac River and James River watersheds indicates higher atmospheric N deposition in the Potomac, likely resulting from greater emissions from higher proportions of agricultural and urban land in this basin. Atmospheric N deposition rose from 30% among all N sources to the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 1950 to a peak of 40% in 1973, and a decline to 28% by 2015. These data highlight the important role of atmospheric N deposition in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and present a potential opportunity for decreases in deposition to contribute to further reducing N loads and improving the trophic status of tidal waters.

Publication Year 2021
Title Atmospheric nitrogen deposition in the Chesapeake Bay watershed: A history of change
DOI 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2021.118277
Authors Douglas A. Burns, Gopal Bhatt, Lewis C. Linker, Jesse Bash, Paul Capel, Gary W. Shenk
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Atmospheric Environment
Index ID 70218500
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization New York Water Science Center