First global map of atmospheric ammonia distribution published

Researchers also found that past assumptions about atmospheric ammonia levels are largely inaccurate and that the levels are much higher than thought earlier

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 06 December 2018
Ammonia Pollution
The study catalogued more than 200 ammonia sources which are essentially sites of intensive livestock production. Credit: Getty Images The study catalogued more than 200 ammonia sources which are essentially sites of intensive livestock production. Credit: Getty Images

The first global map of the distribution of atmospheric ammonia (NH3), prepared by analysing measurements taken by satellites between 2008 and 2016 is out.

The map has been prepared by a team of scientists from the Centre national de la recherche scientifique or CNRS, Paris and the Universite Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in Brussels. Their findings have been published in the journal Nature.

Among the highlights of the research is the fact that the researchers catalogued more than 200 ammonia sources, two-thirds of which had never been identified before. These sources are essentially sites of intensive livestock production and industrial activity.

The researchers used the IASI interferometer developed by French space agency, CNES, to do the cataloguing. For the last twelve years, the IASI interferometer on board three successive Metop satellites developed by the European Space Agency have been providing scientists with global data on various atmospheric components, including ammonia.

Using the daily data on ammonia levels recorded by the interferometers over a period spanning nearly ten years, the researchers generated a map of the global atmospheric distribution of ammonia whose resolution is on the order of a square kilometre.

By combining their map with satellite imagery, they uncovered and categorised 241 point sources of anthropogenic NH3 emissions—83 linked to intensive livestock production and 158 to industrial activity—as well as 178 wider emission zones.

The study has also shown that levels of emissions from previously identified sources are greatly underestimated.

By observing changes in the data over time, the team was also able to trace developments of the associated human activities, like the start or closing of industrial complexes or the expansion of infrastructures for intensive animal farming.

The study’s findings suggest that better management of the impact of ammonia pollution requires a comprehensive review of ammonia emissions, which are much higher than presently assumed.

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