Articles | Volume 12, issue 13
Research article
09 Jul 2015
Research article |  | 09 Jul 2015

Chemical footprints of anthropogenic nitrogen deposition on recent soil C : N ratios in Europe

C. Mulder, J.-P. Hettelingh, L. Montanarella, M. R. Pasimeni, M. Posch, W. Voigt, and G. Zurlini

Abstract. Long-term human interactions with the natural landscape have produced a plethora of trends and patterns of environmental disturbances across time and space. Nitrogen deposition, closely tracking energy and land use, is known to be among the main drivers of pollution, affecting both freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. We present a statistical approach for investigating the historical and geographical distribution of nitrogen deposition and the impacts of accumulation on recent soil carbon-to-nitrogen ratios in Europe. After the second Industrial Revolution, large swaths of land emerged characterized by different atmospheric deposition patterns caused by industrial activities or intensive agriculture. Nitrogen deposition affects soil C : N ratios in a still recognizable way despite the abatement of oxidized and reduced nitrogen emissions during the last 2 decades. Given a seemingly disparate land-use history, we focused on ~ 10 000 unmanaged ecosystems, providing statistical evidence for a rapid response of nature to the chronic nitrogen supply through atmospheric deposition.

Short summary
Spatial clustering of anthropogenic nitrogen deposition reveals that European C:N ratio varies more across soils of natural ecosystems with low pollution. It turns out surprisingly that such soils are the most affected by nitrogen accumulation and therefore most responsive to short-term N supply. While an inverse correlation between atmospheric nitrogen and soil C:N seems intuitive, we provide novel insights into the real magnitude and spatial distribution of this relationship since 1880.
Final-revised paper