Archived air from Cape Grim
Boering and her colleagues, including former UC Berkeley graduate students Sunyoung Park and Phillip Croteau, obtained air samples from Antarctic ice, called firn air, dating from 1940 to 2005, and from an atmospheric monitoring station at Cape Grim, Tasmania, which has archived air back to 1978.
Analysis of N2O levels in the Cape Grim air samples revealed a seasonal cycle, which has been known before. But isotopic measurements by a very sensitive isotope ratio mass spectrometer also displayed a seasonal cycle, which had not been observed before. At Cape Grim, the isotopes show that the seasonal cycle is due both to the circulation of air returning from the stratosphere, where N2O is destroyed after an average lifetime of 120 years, and to seasonal changes in the ocean, most likely upwelling that releases more N2O at some times of year than at others.
"The fact that the isotopic composition of N2O shows a coherent signal in space and time is exciting, because now you have a way to differentiate agricultural N2O from natural ocean N2O from Amazon forest emissions from N2O returning from the stratosphere," Boering said. "In addition, you also now have a way to check whether your international neighbors are abiding by agreements they've made to mitigate N2O emissions. It is a tool that, ultimately, we can use to verify whether N2O emissions by agriculture or biofuel production are in line with what they say they are."
Changes in fertilizer use can reduce N2O emissions
Limiting nitrous oxide emissions could
|Contact: Robert Sanders|
University of California - Berkeley