Environmental Policy

Abiotic Mechanism for the Formation of Atmospheric Nitrous Oxide from Ammonium Nitrate

Rubasinghege, G.; Spak, S.N.; Stanier, C.O.; Carmichael, G.R.; Grassian, V.H.
2011 Apr 1


Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important greenhouse gas and a primary cause of stratospheric ozone destruction. Despite its importance, there remains missing sources in the N2O budget.

Here we report the formation of atmospheric nitrous oxide from the decomposition of ammonium nitrate via an abiotic mechanism that is favorable in the presence of light, realtive humidity and a surface.

This source of N2O is not currently account for in the global N2O budget. Annual production of N2O from atmospheric aerosols and surface fertilizer application over the continental United States from this abiotic pathway is estimated from results of an annual chemical transport simulation with the Community Multiscale Air Quality model (CMAQ).

This pathway is projected to produce 9.3(+.07/-5.3) Gg N2O annually over North America. N2O production by this mechanism is expected globally from both megacities and agricultural areas and may become more important under future projected changes in anthropogenic emissions.