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Volume 1 (2001), Pages 287-293
Research Article

Class I Areas at Risk: Event-Based Nitrogen Deposition to a High-Elevation, Western Site

Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and Department of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA

Academic Editor: Joe Wisniewski

Copyright © 2001 Mark W. Williams and Dave Manthorne.


Between June 1, 2000 and September 30, 2000, 32 precipitation events were sampled near Telluride, CO at an elevation of 3200 m. The wet deposition site was operated following protocols of the Atmospheric Integrated Research Monitoring Network (AIRMoN), a network of the National Atmospheric Deposition Network (NADP). Inorganic nitrogen deposition at the Telluride site of 1.41 kg ha-1 during the study period was 25 to 50% higher than nearby NADP sites. In turn, nitrogen deposition at these NADP sites was similar to high-elevation sites in and near the Colorado Front Range that have been shown to be impacted by atmospheric deposition of inorganic nitrogen in wetfall. Power plant emissions are a likely source of a major portion of this elevated inorganic nitrogen in wetfall to the San Juan Mountains. Principal component analysis (PCA) shows that solutes formed by gases that are emitted from power plants were clustered tightly together, including nitrate, ammonium, sulfate, and chloride. Trajectory analysis, including both backward and forward trajectories, shows that the air masses that contributed to the precipitation events with high amounts of nitrogen deposition at the Telluride site passed directly over or near power plants. Our results suggest that Class I Wilderness Areas in and near the San Juan Mountains are at risk to ecosystem impairment at present rates of atmospheric deposition of inorganic nitrogen in wetfall. Deployment of proposed power plants to this area will likely increase the risk of degradation of resource values in nearby Class I areas. While these data were collected over a short time span, they indicate that establishment of an official AIRMoN site in the southwestern U.S. may be warranted.