Isotopic advances in understanding reactive nitrogen deposition and atmospheric processing

Emily M. Elliott, Zhongjie Yu, Amanda S. Cole, Justin G. Coughlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent advances in stable isotope measurements now allow for detailed investigations of the sources, transformations, and deposition of reactive nitrogen (N) species. Stable isotopes show promise as a complementary tool for apportioning emissions sources that contribute to deposition and also for developing a more robust understanding of the transformations that can influence these isotope ratios. Methodological advances have facilitated the unprecedented examination of the isotopic composition of reactive N species in the atmosphere and in precipitation including nitrogen oxides (NO x = nitric oxide (NO) + nitrogen dioxide (NO 2 )), atmospheric nitrate (NO 3 ), nitric acid (HNO 3 ), ammonia (NH 3 ), and ammonium (NH 4 + ). This isotopic information provides new insight into the mechanisms of transformation and cycling of reactive N in the atmosphere and moreover helps resolve the contribution of multiple NO x and NH 3 emission sources to deposition across landscapes, regions, and continents. Here, we highlight the current state of knowledge regarding the isotopic ratios of NO x and NH 3 emission sources and chemical alterations of isotopic ratios during atmospheric transformations. We also highlight illustrative examples where isotopic approaches are used and review recent methodological advances. While these highlights are not an exhaustive review of the literature, we hope they provide a glimpse of the potential for these methods to help resolve knowledge gaps regarding total N deposition to Earth surfaces. We conclude with promising opportunities for future research in the short-, medium-, and long-term.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-403
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Apr 20 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Ammonia
  • Atmospheric deposition
  • Isotopes
  • Nitrate
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Reactive nitrogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


Dive into the research topics of 'Isotopic advances in understanding reactive nitrogen deposition and atmospheric processing'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this