Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Importance of biomass burning in the atmospheric budgets of nitrogen-containing gases


BIOMASS burning is a primary source of many trace substances that are important in atmospheric chemistry1–6. More than 80% of the world's biomass burning takes place in the tropics3 as a result of savanna fires, forest-clearing activity, and the burning of agricultural waste and wood. Here we report results from laboratory studies on the emission of nitrogen-containing compounds from the burning of dry vegetation. We find that the emission rates of NOX, HCN and CH3CN are sufficient to contribute significantly to the global atmospheric budget of the compounds. Furthermore, possibly up to half of the biomass nitrogen can be converted to molecular nitrogen, N2, leading to an estimated annual loss of 12–28 x 1012g of biomass nitrogen ('pyrodenitrification'), equal to 9–20% of the estimated global rate of terrestrial nitrogen fixation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Crutzen, P. J., Heidt, L. E., Krasnec, J. P., Pollock, W. H. & Seiler, W. Nature 282, 253–256 (1979).

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  2. Crutzen, P. J. et al. J. atmos. Chem. 2, 233–256 (1985).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Crutzen, P. J. & Andreae, M. O. Science (in the press).

  4. Andreae, M. O. et al. J. geophys. Res. 93, 1509–1527 (1988).

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  5. Cofer, W. R. J. geophys. Res. 94, 2255–2259 (1989).

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  6. Lobert, J. M. thesis, Max-Planck-lnstitut für Chemie (Mainz) (1990).

  7. Seuwen, R. thesis, Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie (Mainz) (1989).

  8. Hamm, S. & Warneck, P. J. geophys. Res. (in the press).

  9. Neurath, G. Beitr. Tabakforsch. 5, 115–133 (1969).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Soderlund, R. & Svensson, B. H. Ecol. Bull., Stockholm 22, 33–73 (1976).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Logan, J. J. geophys. Res. 88, 10785–10807 (1983).

    Article  CAS  ADS  Google Scholar 

  12. World Health Organization Global Ozone Research and Monitoring Proj. Rep. 16 (WHO, Geneva, 1985).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Lobert, J., Scharffe, D., Hao, W. et al. Importance of biomass burning in the atmospheric budgets of nitrogen-containing gases. Nature 346, 552–554 (1990).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing