The Rocky Mountain region of Colorado and southern Wyoming receives as much as 7kgha-1yr-1 of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition, an amount that may have caused changes in aquatic and terrestrial life in otherwise pristine ecosystems. Results from published studies indicate a long-term increase in the rate of atmospheric N deposition during the 20th century, but data from the National Atmospheric Deposition Program and Clean Air Status and Trends Network show no region-wide increase during the past 2 decades. Nitrogen loads in atmospheric wet deposition have increased since the mid-1980s, however, at three high elevation (>3000m) sites east of the Continental Divide in the Front Range. Much of this increase is the result of increased ammonium (NH4+) concentrations in wet deposition. This suggests an increase in contributions from agricultural areas or from vehicles east of the Rocky Mountains and is consistent with the results of previous studies that have suggested a significant eastern source for atmospheric N deposition to the Front Range. The four sites with the highest NH4+ concentrations in wet deposition were among the six easternmost NADP sites, which is also consistent with a source to the east of the Rockies. This analysis found an increase in N loads in wet deposition at Niwot Ridge of only 0.013kgha-1yr-1, more than an order of magnitude less than previously reported for this site. This lower rate of increase results from application of the non-parametric Seasonal Kendall trend test to mean monthly data, which failed a test for normality, in contrast to linear regression, which was applied to mean annual data in a previous study. Current upward trends in population growth and energy use in Colorado and throughout the west suggest a need for continued monitoring of atmospheric deposition of N, and may reveal more widespread trends in N deposition in the future.
Additional publication details
Atmospheric nitrogen deposition in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and southern Wyoming - A review and new analysis of past study results