Processing of atmospheric nitrogen by clouds above a forest environment

Kimberly A. Hill, Paul B. Shepson, Edward S. Galbavy, Cort Anastasio, Peter S. Kourtev, Allan Konopka, Brian H. Stirm

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Dissolved inorganic ions (NH+4, Ca2+, Mg2+, K+, H+, NO- 3, and SO2-4) and organic nitrogen (DON) were measured in cloud water samples collected over the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. Within a given cloud field, several altitudes were sampled to examine changes in concentration and speciation with altitude. Several samples were analyzed for bacterial content and activity. Convective cumulus (cumulus congestus) were more concentrated than fair weather cumulus (cumulus humilis) for all major ions and DON, with the cloudy air DON concentrations in convective cumulus being twice as large as for fair weather cumulus, and for all other ions, the droplets were 4-6 times more concentrated. The molar average distribution of nitrogen in the cloud water was 43 (±l 0,1δ)% ammonium, 39 (±7)% nitrate and 18 (±11)% DON. High concentrations of bacteria were observed in the clouds with an average concentration of 2.9 × 105 (±1.0 × 105, 1δ) bacteria m-3 of cloudy air but which contributed less than 1% of the nitrogen in the cloud water. In addition, nitrifying bacteria were identified, indicating bacterial processing of nitrogen in the cloud water may occur. Air mass origin and altitude influence observed cloud water concentrations, with the exception of DON. The correlation of ammonium and sulfate, and calcium and nitrate suggest that ammonium sulfate and calcium nitrate aerosol may be important sources of these ions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberD11301
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 16 2007


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