Articles | Volume 9, issue 10
Research article
19 Oct 2012
Research article |  | 19 Oct 2012

Linking agricultural crop management and air quality models for regional to national-scale nitrogen assessments

E. J. Cooter, J. O. Bash, V. Benson, and L. Ran

Abstract. While nitrogen (N) is an essential element for life, human population growth and demands for energy, transportation and food can lead to excess nitrogen in the environment. A modeling framework is described and implemented to promote a more integrated, process-based and system-level approach to the estimation of ammonia (NH3) emissions which result from the application of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers to agricultural soils in the United States. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Environmental Policy Integrated Climate (EPIC) model is used to simulate plant demand-driven fertilizer applications to commercial cropland throughout the continental US. This information is coupled with a process-based air quality model to produce continental-scale NH3 emission estimates. Regional cropland NH3 emissions are driven by the timing and amount of inorganic NH3 fertilizer applied, soil processes, local meteorology, and ambient air concentrations. Initial fertilizer application often occurs when crops are planted. A state-level evaluation of EPIC-simulated, cumulative planted area compares well with similar USDA reported estimates. EPIC-annual, inorganic fertilizer application amounts also agree well with reported spatial patterns produced by others, but domain-wide the EPIC values are biased about 6% low. Preliminary application of the integrated fertilizer application and air quality modeling system produces a modified geospatial pattern of seasonal NH3 emissions that improves current simulations of observed atmospheric particle nitrate concentrations. This modeling framework provides a more dynamic, flexible, and spatially and temporally resolved estimate of NH3 emissions than previous factor-based NH3 inventories, and will facilitate evaluation of alternative nitrogen and air quality policy and adaptation strategies associated with future climate and land use changes.

Final-revised paper