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Stabilization of atmospheric nitrogen deposition in China over the past decade


Increasing atmospheric nitrogen deposition can influence food production, environmental quality and climate change from the regional to global scales. As the largest developing country, China is expected to experience a rapid increase in N deposition. However, the lack of information on dry N deposition limits our understanding of the historical trend of the total N deposition, as well as the main drivers of this trend. Here, we use extensive datasets that include both wet and dry N deposition to evaluate the spatiotemporal variation of N deposition and the changes of its components in China during 1980–2015. Three significant transitions in N deposition in China were observed. First, the total N deposition began to stabilize in 2001–2005, mostly due to a decline in wet NH4+ deposition. Subsequently, a shift to approximately equal wet and dry N deposition occurred in 2011–2015, accompanied by increasing dry deposition. Finally, the contribution of reduced N components in the deposition decreased due to increasing NO3 deposition. These transitions were jointly driven by changes in the socioeconomic structure in China and vigorous controls in N pollution. The three observed important transitions challenge the traditional views about the continuous increase in N deposition in China.

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request. The data sources for the NO2 column, NH3 column, social statistics, and NH3, NOx and SO2 emissions can be found in the Methods.

Code availability

The code used to generate and process NH3 column data can be accessed on request to Y.J.

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Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.


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This work was supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2016YFA0600104 and 2017YFA0604803), Chinese Academy of Sciences Priority Research Program (XDA19020302), National Natural Science Foundation of China (31872690, 31700377, 31570471 and 31290221), programme of the Youth Innovation Research Team Project (LENOM2016Q0005), National Postdoctoral Program for Innovative Talents (BX20180300) and Newton Fund through the BBSRC project of the China Virtual Joint Centre for Improved Nitrogen Agronomy (BB/N013468/1).

Author information

G.Y. designed the research. Y.J., N.H., J.Z., H.H., X.G. and P.L. conducted the research (collected the datasets and analysed the data). G.Y., Y.J., N.H., S.P., X.L., K.G. and J.Z. wrote the manuscript. Q.W., W.Z., G.D. and Z.C. commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Guirui Yu.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary description, Supplementary Figs. 1–16 and Supplementary Tables 1–11

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Fig. 1: Spatial patterns of atmospheric N deposition over China in 2011–2015.
Fig. 2: Temporal dynamics of wet, dry and total N deposition across China.
Fig. 3: Temporal variations in RDry/Wet and \(R_{{\rm{NH}}_{x}/{\rm{NO}}_{y}}\) in China.
Fig. 4: Mechanisms by which socioeconomic structures and environmental policies drove the transition of atmospheric N deposition in China.