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Ammonia Emission is an Indirect Source of Nitrous Oxide Emission and Climate Change

September 23, 2014

In addition to nitrous oxide emission from agriculture as a greenhouse gas that affects climate change, ammonia is considered an indirect pollutant.  The next few posts will review ammonia volatilization from our agricultural production because not only is ammonia emission a loss of nitrogen from our agriculture, it has potentially negative health effects, and adds to our greenhouse gas emissions.

The indirect effect of ammonia emission is greater than direct N2O emission from soil

IPCC (1996) determined that the direct N2O emissions from N applied to soil is 1%, and the indirect N2O emissions from NH3 volatilization is 1.6%. The IPCC (2006) guidelines increased the indirect effect of NH3 emission to 2%. We need a greater understanding of ammonia emission, in order to develop strategies to reduce it.

Initial concerns with ammonia emission were not related to N2O emission

The initial worldwide effort to reduce ammonia emissions from agriculture in the 1980s was not related to greenhouse gas emissions, but more about air quality and other ecosystem effects.

Schmidt and Mosel (2007) stated that ammonia emissions rank among the most important substances polluting the ecosystems. Germany concluded that 95% of ammonia emissions came from agricultural sources in 2001, of which 82% came from animal husbandry. Switzerland reported that 90% of ammonia emissions resulted from agriculture already in the early 1990s (Reidy et al. 2008). The US National Research Council estimated that 65% of all NH3 emissions from terrestrial systems come from animal farming systems.

When I lived in the Netherlands for part of my education on manure in the late 1980s, our two year old daughter often exclaimed as we drove out of our village “smells like poop here, Dad”.  The Netherlands had been conducting research and implementing regulation to reduce ammonia from agriculture since the early 1980s. The main reason for this was forest dieback in eastern Europe.

As a result, the Environmental Management Act in the Netherlands required all liquid manure storages to be covered in 1987 to reduce ammonia emissions. In 1994, manure application techniques to reduce ammonia emission were implemented. The Gotenburg Protocol (1999) was signed in Europe in 1999, whereby the member countries agreed to reduce ammonia emissions by 17% by 2010 (Netherland’s reduction target was 43%!). Erisman et al. (1998) reported that ammonia emission reduction from agriculture is not as easy to achieve as was predicted.

Ammonia is considered a pollutant in the Fraser Valley. It has been linked with the white haze and the formation of small particulate matter. Belzer et al. (1996) measured actual nitrogen deposition of 42.5 kg N per hectare resulting from ammonia emission in Abbotsford during a portion of the growing season.  Environment Canada (1996) estimated that 7600 tonnes of ammonia N were emitted from agriculture in the Lower Fraser Valley of BC. Bartholomie and Pryor (1998) demonstrated that ammonia mixed with sulphur oxides to form the white haze sometimes seen in the Fraser Valley. Giroux et al. (2002) determined that the primary source of ammonia was from agriculture in the Fraser Valley. Bittman et al. (2010) identified the dairy sector as a primary source of ammonia emissions in the Fraser Valley.
Foyle (2011) identified ammonia emission as one of the primary air quality concerns in the Fraser Valley, both because of its role in fine particulate formation resulting in human health concerns, its role in the white haze, and its role in N deposition. They cited a 2005 report suggesting that 76% of the ammonia emissions resulted from agriculture. Indirect emissions of GHG due to ammonia redeposition was not considered in this report.

IPCC (2006) recommends including ammonia emission as a source of N2O. For example, Skiba et al. (2005) reported that 3% of the volatilized ammonia was emitted as N2O following deposition around poultry farms. Veldhof et al. (2009) did not include anaerobic digestion in their modelling scenarios for ammonia emission abatement in Western Europe. Petersen and Sommer (2011) concluded that anaerobic digestion of animal manure would increase ammonia emission, based on their extensive work on manure management in Denmark and their understanding of the science of manure. In a review of the literature, Hoeksma et al. (2012) concluded that digested manure contains higher ammonium concentration and a higher pH, which means that higher ammonia losses would be expected during both storage and following field application. Anaerobic digestion was not cited as a strategy for ammonia emission.

Ammonia emission is not necessarily affected by improving our nitrogen use efficiency on farms. In the following posts, we will consider ammonia emission on poultry and dairy farms more in depth. It does appear to be a significant but indirect contributor to climate change.

This suggests that we should be considering this in our community as we develop our Agriculture Strategy and our Agricultural Waste Policies and recommendations.


Barthelmie, R.J., and S.C. Pryor. 1998. Implications of ammonia emission for find aerosol formation and visibility impairment: a case study from the lower fraser valley, British Columbia. Atmospheric Environment 32: 345-352.

Belzer, W., C. Evans and A. Poon. 1997. Atmospheric nitrogen concentrations in the Lower Fraser Valley. Environment Canada DOE FRAP 1997-23

Bittman, S., J. Tait, D. Hunt, S. Sheppard, K. Chipperfield and Q. Zheng. 2010. Ammonia emission inventory for farms in the Lower Fraser Valley with detailed spatial and temporal resolution. 15th International Union of Air Pollution Prevention and Environmental Protection Associations’ World Clean Air Congress, Vancouver, BC Sept 2010.

Environment Canada. 1996. Management of Agricultural Wastes in the Lower Fraser Valley. Summary Report No. 9. DOE FRAP 1996-30

Erisman, J.W., A. Bleeker and J.A van Jaarsveld. 1998. Evaluation of ammonia emission abatement on the basis of measurements and model calculations. Environmental Pollution 102 S1 269-274.

Foyle, J. 2011. Air Quality Framework for BC Agriculture.

Giroux, E., H. Roth, D. Yin and W. Jiang. 2002. Modelling and processing ammonia emissions for particulate matter studies in the Lower Fraser Valley. 11th International Emission Inventory Conference, Atlanta, GA April 2002.

Gotenburg Protocol. 1999. Protocol to the 1979 convention on long range transboundary air pollution to abate acidification, eutrophication and ground level ozone.

IPCC. 1996. Module 4. Agriculture. 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.

IPCC. 2006. 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. Volume 4. Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use. Chapter 10. Emissions from Livestock and Manure Management.

Hoeksma, P., J. Mosquera and R.W. Melse. 2012. Monitoring methane and nitrous oxide reduction by manure treatment. Report 627. Livestock Research, Wageningen UR, the Netherlands.

Petersen, S.O. and S.G. Sommer. 2011. Ammonia and nitrous oxide interactions: roles of manure organic matter management. Animal Feed Science and Technology 166-167: 503-513.

Reidy, B., B. Rhim, and H. Menzi. 2008. A new Swiss inventory of ammonia emissions from agriculture based on a survey on farm and manure management and farm-specific model calculations. Atmospheric Environment 42: 3266-3276.

Schmidt, R., and R. Mosel. 2007 Reduction of ammonia-emissions at farm level – a decision between environmental and animal protection? In Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions at Farm and Manufacturing Levels.  Bulletin of the International Dairy Federation 422/2007

Skiba, U., J. Dick, R. Storeton-West, S. Fernandez-Lopez, C. Wood, S. Tang and N. Van Dijk. 2005. The relationship between ammonia emissions from a poultry farm and soil NO and N2O fluxes from a downwind source. Biogeosciences Discussions 2: 977-995.

Veldhof, G.L., D. Oudendag, H.P. Witzke, W.A.H. Asman, Z. Klimont and O. Oenema. 2009. Integrated assessment of nitrogen losses from agriculture in EU-27 using MITERRA-EUROPE.  Journal of Environmental Quality 38: 402-417.


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