Dry and wet atmospheric deposition of nitrogen, phosphorus and silicon in an agricultural region

Kelsy A. Anderson, John A. Downing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


We measured atmospheric nutrient deposition as wet deposition and dry deposition to dry and wet surfaces. Our analyses offer estimates of atmospheric transport of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and silicon (Si) in an agricultural region. Annual dry and wet deposition (ha-1 year-1) was 0.3 kg of P, 7.7 kg of N, and 6.1 kg of Si; lower than or similar to values seen in other landscapes. N:P and Si:N imply that atmospheric deposition enhances P and Si limitation. Most P and soluble reactive P (SRP) deposition occurred as dryfall and most dry-deposited P was SRP so would be more readily assimilable by plant life than rainfall P. Dry deposition of N to wet surfaces was several times greater than to dry surfaces, suggesting that ammonia (NH x ) gas absorbtion by water associated with wet surfaces is an important N transport mechanism. Deposition of all nutrients peaked when agricultural planting and fertilization were active; ratios of NH x :nitrate (NO x ) hbox{reflected} the predominant use of NH x fertilizer. Wet deposition estimates were consistent over hundreds of km, but dry deposition estimates were influenced by animal confinements and construction. Precipitation wash-out of atmospheric nutrients was substantial but larger rain events yielded higher rates of wet deposition. Methodological results showed that local dust contaminated wet deposition more than dry; insects, bird droppings and leaves may have biased past deposition estimates; and estimating dry deposition to dry plastic buckets may underestimate annual deposition of N, especially NH x.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-374
Number of pages24
JournalWater, Air, and Soil Pollution
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Oct 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants to JAD from the Iowa State Water Resources Research Institute and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Thanks to the Limnology Lab at Iowa State University for help in analyzing samples, and especially to Tim Blake, for help in collecting samples around the state. Terry Mayberry and the Iowa State University Department of Aeronautical Engineering helped us retrieve field samples. Daelyn Woolnough, William Crumpton, Ray Arritt and Thomas Hrabik provided comments on the manuscript.


  • Atmospheric deposition
  • Dry
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Precipitation
  • Silicon


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