• Giant Sequoia Trees

    Sequoia & Kings Canyon

    National Parks California

Air Quality -- Nitrogen Deposition

Farm tractor plowing field with dust billowing behind

A dust cloud rises from a field being plowed in the Central Valley of California.

NPS Photo

Nitrogen is essential for all living things. It is found in solid earth and in the atmosphere. Small amounts of nitrogen move in a dynamic cycle involving the atmosphere, oceans, lakes, streams, plants, and animals. Depending on the form and amount in the environment, nitrogen can serve as a nutrient, enhancing growth and productivity, or as a toxin, causing ecological damage or harming human health.

Human activities (emissions from vehicles, electric utilities, industrial plants and agricultural activities) have added levels of nitrogen rivaling or exceeding contributions from natural sources.

There has been a slow, continuous increase in atmospheric nitrogen deposition in park watersheds as well as around the world. However, in spite of increasing nitrogen deposition, there has been a decrease in the dissolved nitrogen that has been measured in the water flowing out of mid and high-elevation park watersheds. More than four decades of research provide unequivocal evidence that nitrogen have altered, and will continue to alter our nation's lands and waters. In these parks we have measured increased nitrogen deposition and its effect on water quality and it has the potential to alter terrestrial plant communities in ways that we cannot anticipate.

For further information, visit the National Atmospheric Deposition Program web site.

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