Agricultural Fertilization Aggravates Air Pollution by Stimulating Soil Nitrous Acid Emissions at High Soil Moisture

Yanan Wang, Xiao Fu, Dianming Wu, Mengdi Wang, Keding Lu, Yujing Mu, Zhiguo Liu, Yuanhang Zhang, Tao Wang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Nitrogen lost from fertilized soil is a potentially large source of atmospheric nitrous acid (HONO), a major precursor of the hydroxyl radical. Yet, the impacts of fertilizer types and other influencing factors on HONO emissions are unknown. As a result, the current state-of-the-art models lack an appropriate parameterization scheme to quantify the HONO impact on air quality after fertilization. Here, we report laboratory measurements of high HONO emissions from soils at a 75-95% water-holding capacity after applying three common fertilizers, which contrasts with previous lower predictions at high soil moisture. Urea use leads to the largest release of HONO compared to the other two commonly used fertilizers (ammonium bicarbonate and ammonium nitrate). The significant promotion effect of fertilization lasted up to 1 week. Implementation of the lab-derived parametrization in a chemistry transport model (CMAQ) significantly improved postfertilization HONO predictions at a rural site in the agriculture-intensive North China Plain and increased the regionally averaged daytime OH, O3, and daily fine particulate nitrate concentrations by 41, 8, and 47%, respectively. The results of our study underscore the necessity to include this large postfertilization HONO source in modeling air quality and atmospheric chemistry. Fertilizer structure adjustments may reduce HONO emissions and improve the air quality in polluted regions with intense agriculture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14556-14566
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2021


  • ambient air pollution
  • fertilization
  • high soil moisture
  • model improvements
  • soil HONO emissions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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