Isotopic constraints on the formation pathways and sources of atmospheric nitrate in the Mt. Everest region

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  • Published: 2020-09-11
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Inorganic particulate nitrate (p-NO3), gaseous nitric acid (HNO3(g)) and nitrogen oxides (NOx = NO + NO2), as main atmospheric pollutants, have detrimental effects on human health and aquatic/terrestrial ecosystems. Referred to as the ‘Third Pole’ and the ‘Water Tower of Asia’, the Tibetan Plateau (TP) has attracted wide attention on its environmental changes.

Researchers evaluated the oxidation processes of atmospheric nitrate as well as traced its potential sources by analyzing the isotopic compositions of nitrate (δ15N, δ18O, and Δ17O) in the aerosols collected from the Mt. Everest region during April to September 2018. Over the entire sampling campaigns, the average of δ15N(NO3), δ18O(NO3), and Δ17O(NO3) was 5.1 ± 2.3‰, 66.7 ± 10.2‰, and 24.1 ± 3.9‰, respectively. The seasonal variation in Δ17O(NO3) indicates the relative importance of O3 and HO2/RO2/OH in NOx oxidation processes among different seasons. A significant correlation between NO3 and Ca2+ and frequent dust storms in the Mt. Everest region indicate that initially, the atmospheric nitrate in this region might have undergone a process of settling; subsequently, it got re-suspended in the dust. Compared with the Δ17O(NO3) values in the northern TP, our observed significantly higher values suggest that spatial variations in atmospheric Δ17O(NO3) exist within the TP, and this might result from the spatial variations of the atmospheric O3 levels, especially the stratospheric O3, over the TP. The observed δ15N(NO3) values predicted remarkably low δ15N values in the NOx of the sources and the N isotopic fractionation plays a crucial role in the seasonal changes of δ15N(NO3). Combined with the results from the backward trajectory analysis of air mass, we suggest that the vehicle exhausts and agricultural activities in South Asia play a dominant role in determining the nitrate levels in the Mt. Everest region.

This study was conducted by researchers at Chinese Academy of Science, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Tokyo Institute of Technology, and was published in Environmental Pollution. PhD student WANG Kun at University of Chinese Academy of Sciences is the first author, Prof. KANG Shichang at Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources of Chinese Academy of Science is a corresponding author.