Measurement of ammonia emissions from tropical seabird colonies

Riddick, S.N.; Blackall, T.D.; Dragosits, U.; Daunt, F.; Braban, C.F.; Tang, Y.S.; MacFarlane, W.; Taylor, S.; Wanless, S.; Sutton, M.A.. 2014 Measurement of ammonia emissions from tropical seabird colonies. Atmospheric Environment, 89. 35-42.

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The excreta (guano) of seabirds at their breeding colonies represents a notable source of ammonia (NH3) emission to the atmosphere, with effects on surrounding ecosystems through nitrogen compounds being thereby transported from sea to land. Previous measurements in temperate UK conditions quantified emission hotspots and allowed preliminary global upscaling. However, thermodynamic processes and water availability limit NH3 formation from guano, which suggests that the proportion of excreted nitrogen that volatilizes as NH3 may potentially be higher at tropical seabird colonies than similar colonies in temperate or sub-polar regions. To investigate such differences, we measured NH3 concentrations and environmental conditions at two tropical seabird colonies during the breeding season: a colony of 20,000 tern spp. and noddies on Michaelmas Cay, Great Barrier Reef, and a colony of 200,000 Sooty terns on Ascension Island, Atlantic Ocean. At both sites time-integrated NH3 concentrations and meteorological parameters were measured. In addition, at Ascension Island, semi-continuous hourly NH3 concentrations and micrometeorological parameters were measured throughout the campaign. Ammonia emissions, quantified using a backwards Lagrangian atmospheric dispersion model, were estimated at 21.8 μg m−2 s−1 and 18.9 μg m−2 s−1 from Michaelmas Cay and Ascension Island, respectively. High temporal resolution NH3 data at Ascension Island estimated peak hourly emissions up to 377 μg NH3 m2 s−1. The estimated percentage fraction of total guano nitrogen volatilized was 67% at Michaelmas Cay and 32% at Ascension Island, with the larger value at the former site attributed to higher water availability. These values are much larger than published data for sub-polar locations, pointing to a substantial climatic dependence on emission of atmospheric NH3 from seabird colonies.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Topics & Objectives 2009 - 2012 > Biogeochemistry
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Dise
ISSN: 1352-2310
Additional Keywords: coastal nitrogen, seabirds, NH3 measurement, atmospheric dispersion modelling
NORA Subject Terms: Atmospheric Sciences
Date made live: 27 Mar 2014 10:12 +0 (UTC)

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