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Volume 1 (2001), Pages 304-311
Research Article

Concentrations, Deposition, and Effects of Nitrogenous Pollutants in Selected California Ecosystems

USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southest research Station, Riverside, CA 92507, USA

Academic Editor: Joe Wisniewski

Copyright © 2001 Andrzej Bytnerowicz et al.


Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen (N) in California ecosystems is ecologically significant and highly variable, ranging from about 1 to 45 kg/ha/year. The lowest ambient concentrations and deposition values are found in the eastern and northern parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the highest in parts of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains that are most exposed to the Los Angeles air pollution plume. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, N is deposited mostly in precipitation, although dry deposition may also provide substantial amounts of N. On the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the majority of airborne N is in reduced forms as ammonia (NH3) and particulate ammonium (NH4+) from agricultural activities in the California Central Valley. In southern California, most of the N air pollution is in oxidized forms as nitrogen oxides (NOx), nitric acid (HNO3), and particulate nitrate (NO3) resulting from fossil fuel combustion and subsequent complex photochemical reactions. In southern California, dry deposition of gases and particles provides most (up to 95%) of the atmospheric N to forests and other ecosystems. In the mixed-conifer forest zone, elevated deposition of N may initially benefit growth of vegetation, but chronic effects may be expressed as deterioration of forest health and sustainability. HNO3 vapor alone has a potential for toxic effects causing damage of foliar surfaces of pines and oaks. In addition, dry deposition of predominantly HNO3 has lead to changes in vegetation composition and contamination of ground- and stream water where terrestrial N loading is high. Long-term, complex interactions between N deposition and other environmental stresses such as elevated ozone (O3), drought, insect infestations, fire suppression, or intensive land management practices may affect water quality and sustainability of California forests and other ecosystems.