Atmospheric Ammonia on the Increase

Air is a shared. Eventually pollutants travel and disperse affecting air quality far from their generation. Scientists at the University of Maryland have developed a way to measure atmospheric ammonia using data generated by NASA satellites. The scientists point out a troubling increase in atmospheric ammonia over the past four years.

The areas showing the greatest increases were the USA, Europe, India and China.

Much of the increase is blamed on agricultural practices which use large amounts of fertilizer, those which generate large amounts of animal waste and climate warming that increases soil temperatures. In the USA some of the increase may be attributed to the vigorous efforts to control acid rain. As the acid rain has come under control, atmospheric ammonia may increase.

Why should we care about ammonia in the air? Because too much can cause a lot of harm. One of the authors of the study, Russell Dickerson, was quoted in the NASA news release – It has a profound effect on air and water quality -- and ecosystems."

Ammonia is a vital part of the nitrogen cycle, but too much of it can cause problems. One of the biggest worries is the speeding up of water way aging – turning lakes into swamps more quickly than is normal. In some lakes and ocean areas “dead zones” are created due to the nitrogen fertilization of the algae which grows profusely and then crashes, taking all the oxygen out of the water, suffocating the fish and other oxygen users. Chesapeake Bay in the USA is an example of eutrophication of a waterway because of too much nitrogen.

Ammonia can convert from a gas to extremely small particles in the air. It can contribute to the smoggy haze increasingly observed in some cities. Studies dealings with the effects on human health are sparse but animal studies have shown that respiratory and eye irritation can develop in higher levels of atmospheric ammonia.

 Further reading:

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