Spatial heterogeneity of ammonia fluxes in a deciduous forest and adjacent grassland

Xuehui Guo, Da Pan, Ryan W. Daly, Xi Chen, John T. Walker, Lei Tao, James McSpiritt, Mark A. Zondlo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gas-phase ammonia (NH3), emitted primarily from agriculture, contributes significantly to reactive nitrogen (Nr) deposition. Excess deposition of Nr to the environment causes acidification, eutrophication, and loss of biodiversity. The exchange of NH3 between land and atmosphere is bidirectional and can be highly heterogenous when underlying vegetation and soil characteristics differ. Direct measurements that assess the spatial heterogeneity of NH3 fluxes are lacking. To this end, we developed and deployed two fast-response, quantum cascade laser-based open-path NH3 sensors to quantify NH3 fluxes at a deciduous forest and an adjacent grassland separated by 700 m in North Carolina, United States from August to November, 2017. The sensors achieved 10 Hz precisions of 0.17 ppbv and 0.23 ppbv in the field, respectively. Eddy covariance calculations showed net deposition of NH3 (-7.3 ng NH3-N m−2 s−1) to the forest canopy and emission (3.2 ng NH3-N m−2 s−1) from the grassland. NH3 fluxes at both locations displayed diurnal patterns with absolute magnitudes largest midday and with smaller peaks in the afternoons. Concurrent biogeochemistry data showed over an order of magnitude higher NH3 emission potentials from green vegetation at the grassland compared to the forest, suggesting a possible explanation for the observed flux differences. Back trajectories originating from the site identified the upwind urban area as the main source region of NH3. Our work highlights the fact that adjacent natural ecosystems sharing the same airshed but different vegetation and biogeochemical conditions may differ remarkably in NH3 exchange. Such heterogeneities should be considered when upscaling point measurements, downscaling modeled fluxes, and evaluating Nr deposition for different natural land use types in the same landscape. Additional in-situ flux measurements accompanied by comprehensive biogeochemical and micrometeorological records over longer periods are needed to fully characterize the temporal variabilities and trends of NH3 fluxes and identify the underlying driving factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109128
JournalAgricultural and Forest Meteorology
StatePublished - Nov 15 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Forestry
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Atmospheric Science


  • Ammonia
  • Deposition
  • Eddy covariance
  • Emission
  • Flux
  • Reactive nitrogen


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