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Volume 1, Pages 945-952
Research Article

Past and Future Exceedances of Nitrogen Critical Loads in Europe

1National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), P.O.Box 1, NL-3720 BA Bilthoven, The Netherlands
2Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel, Kurt-Wolters-Str. 3, D-34109 Kassel, Germany

Received 21 July 2001; Revised 8 October 2001; Accepted 15 October 2001

Academic Editor: Joe Wisniewski

Copyright © 2001 Maximilian Posch et al.


Critical loads of acidity and nutrient nitrogen — simple measures of the sensitivity of ecosystems to deposition — have been widely used for setting emission reduction targets in Europe. In contrast to sulfur, the emissions of nitrogen compounds remain high in the future. This is also true for the exceedances of critical loads until 2010. Looking further into the future, climate change is likely to influence ecosystem sensitivity, and thus critical loads. It is shown that higher temperatures, changed precipitation patterns, and modified net primary production mainly increase critical loads, except in mountainous and arid regions. Using consistent scenarios of climate change and air pollution from a recently completed European study (AIR-CLIM), it is shown that the exceedances in 2100 of the critical loads are declining in comparison to 2010. However, exceedances of critical loads of nutrient nitrogen remain substantial, even under the most stringent scenario. This confirms the increasing role nitrogen plays in environmental problems in comparison to sulfur. Thus research should focus on the effects of nitrogen in the environment, especially under conditions of climate change, to support nitrogen-emission mitigating policies. This not only reduces acidification and eutrophication, but also helps curb the formation of tropospheric ozone.