Articles | Volume 18, issue 2
Research article
18 Jan 2018
Research article |  | 18 Jan 2018

The concentration, source and deposition flux of ammonium and nitrate in atmospheric particles during dust events at a coastal site in northern China

Jianhua Qi, Xiaohuan Liu, Xiaohong Yao, Ruifeng Zhang, Xiaojing Chen, Xuehui Lin, Huiwang Gao, and Ruhai Liu

Abstract. Asian dust has been reported to carry anthropogenic reactive nitrogen during transport from source areas to the oceans. In this study, we attempted to characterize NH4+ and NO3 in atmospheric particles collected at a coastal site in northern China during spring dust events from 2008 to 2011. Based on the mass concentrations of NH4+ and NO3 in each total suspended particle (TSP) sample, the samples can be classified into increasing or decreasing types. In Category 1, the concentrations of NH4+ and NO3 were 20–440 % higher in dust day samples relative to samples collected immediately before or after a dust event. These concentrations decreased by 10–75 % in the dust day samples in Categories 2 and 3. Back trajectory analysis suggested that multiple factors, such as the transport distance prior to the reception site, the mixing layer depth on the transport route and the residence time across highly polluted regions, might affect the concentrations of NH4+ and NO3. NH4+ in the dust day samples was likely either in the form of ammonium salts existing separately to dust aerosols or as the residual of incomplete reactions between ammonium salts and carbonate salts. NO3 in the dust day samples was attributed to various formation processes during the long-range transport. The positive matrix factorization (PMF) receptor model results showed that the contribution of soil dust increased from 23 to 36 % on dust days, with decreasing contributions from local anthropogenic inputs and associated secondary aerosols. The estimated deposition flux of NNH4++NO3 varied greatly from event to event; e.g., the dry deposition flux of NNH4++NO3 increased by 9–285 % in Category 1 but decreased by 46–73 % in Category 2. In Category 3, the average dry deposition fluxes of particulate nitrate and ammonium decreased by 46 % and increased by 10 %, respectively, leading to 11–48 % decrease in the fluxes of NNH4++NO3.

Short summary
Inorganic nitrogen has a great impact on marine productivity when deposited to the ocean via atmospheric deposition. Do dust events always increase the atmospheric input of inorganic nitrogen to the ocean? The estimated deposition flux of NNH4++NO3- varied greatly from event to event. A simple assumption of a linear increase in inorganic nitrogen with increasing dust load could lead to a considerable overestimation of the dry deposition flux of nutrients into the oceans.
Final-revised paper