Letter | Published:

Industrial and agricultural ammonia point sources exposed

Naturevolume 564pages99103 (2018) | Download Citation


Through its important role in the formation of particulate matter, atmospheric ammonia affects air quality and has implications for human health and life expectancy1,2. Excess ammonia in the environment also contributes to the acidification and eutrophication of ecosystems3,4,5 and to climate change6. Anthropogenic emissions dominate natural ones and mostly originate from agricultural, domestic and industrial activities7. However, the total ammonia budget and the attribution of emissions to specific sources remain highly uncertain across different spatial scales7,8,9. Here we identify, categorize and quantify the world’s ammonia emission hotspots using a high-resolution map of atmospheric ammonia obtained from almost a decade of daily IASI satellite observations. We report 248 hotspots with diameters smaller than 50 kilometres, which we associate with either a single point source or a cluster of agricultural and industrial point sources—with the exception of one hotspot, which can be traced back to a natural source. The state-of-the-art EDGAR emission inventory10 mostly agrees with satellite-derived emission fluxes within a factor of three for larger regions. However, it does not adequately represent the majority of point sources that we identified and underestimates the emissions of two-thirds of them by at least one order of magnitude. Industrial emitters in particular are often found to be displaced or missing. Our results suggest that it is necessary to completely revisit the emission inventories of anthropogenic ammonia sources and to account for the rapid evolution of such sources over time. This will lead to better health and environmental impact assessments of atmospheric ammonia and the implementation of suitable nitrogen management strategies.

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Data availability

The NH3 map is available in NetCDF and KMZ formats. The latter file includes the identified hotspots and source regions and is provided in the Supplementary Information. The supplement also includes the 28 hotspot illustrations. The NetCDF file of the NH3 map and the reanalysed IASI NH3 dataset (ANNI-NH3-v2.1R-I) described in Methods are available from the PANGAEA repository (https://doi.org/10.1594/PANGAEA.894736); more recent versions of IASI NH3 datasets are available from the AERIS data infrastructure (http://iasi.aeris-data.fr). The NH3 product from IASI will also be operationally distributed by EUMETCast, under the auspices of the EUMETSAT Atmospheric Monitoring Satellite Application Facility (AC-SAF; http://ac-saf.eumetsat.int).

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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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IASI is a joint mission of EUMETSAT (European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites) and the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES, France). The research in Belgium was funded by F.R.S.-FNRS and the Belgian State Federal Office for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs (Prodex arrangement IASI.FLOW). L.C. is a Research Associate (Chercheur Qualifié) with the Belgian F.R.S.-FNRS. C.C. is grateful to CNES for scientific collaboration and financial support. We thank M. Zondlo for discussions and R. Astoreca for assistance with the identification of certain hotspots. We gratefully acknowledge the Nederlandse Organisatie voor toegepast-natuurwetenschappelijk onderzoek (TNO) for the LOTOS-EUROS data used in the uncertainty analysis presented in the Supplementary Information.

Reviewer information

Nature thanks F. Boersma and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: Martin Van Damme, Lieven Clarisse


  1. Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Service de Chimie Quantique et Photophysique, Atmospheric Spectroscopy, Brussels, Belgium

    • Martin Van Damme
    • , Lieven Clarisse
    • , Simon Whitburn
    • , Daniel Hurtmans
    • , Cathy Clerbaux
    •  & Pierre-François Coheur
  2. LATMOS/IPSL, UPMC Université Paris-06, Sorbonne Universités, UVSQ, CNRS, Paris, France

    • Juliette Hadji-Lazaro
    •  & Cathy Clerbaux


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M.V.D. and L.C. obtained the first hyperresolved maps of NH3 and performed the identification, classification and quantification of the sources, wrote the manuscript and prepared the figures. L.C., M.V.D., S.W. and J.H.-L. were responsible for the development of the retrieval algorithm and the processing of the IASI NH3 dataset. D.H. was responsible for the development of the forward model. C.C. and P.-F.C. contributed to the text and interpretation of the results and supervised the research.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Martin Van Damme or Lieven Clarisse.

Extended data figures and tables

  1. Extended Data Fig. 1 Source areas and hotspot locations.

    Global nine-year NH3 average (in molecules per square centimetre) with identified hotspots, their associated flux estimates (black circles), and source areas (white rectangles). In total 248 hotspots and 178 source areas are indicated (see Supplementary Information for details). The locations and names of the hotspots discussed in the main text are also provided. The largest average NH3 column is found over the Indus Valley (Pakistan) with a value of 1.1 × 1017 molecules cm−2.

  2. Extended Data Fig. 2 Satellite footprint averaging.

    Example of two days (20 and 21 July 2016) of IASI/Metop-A morning NH3 observations (in molecules per square centimetre) over the Po Valley. The elliptical footprints of IASI are averaged on a 0.01° × 0.01° high-resolution grid and weighted by the inverse of their footprint area. Map data from Google Earth and Landsat/Copernicus.

  3. Extended Data Fig. 3 Binned and oversampled averages over the Nile Delta and Valley.

    The right panel demonstrates the oversampled average (on a 0.01° × 0.01° grid; maximum value of 3.1 × 1016 molecules cm−2); the left panel shows the traditional binned average (on a 0.25° × 0.25° grid; maximum value of 2.2 × 1016 molecules cm−2) of IASI/Metop-A morning NH3 observations from 2008 to 2016 (in molecules per square centimetre; 12 × 12 km2 at nadir); see Methods for details. The increase in resolution allows the identification of two point sources in the north of the Gulf of Suez, Ain Sukhna (1) and Al-Adabiya (2), which cannot be singled out with a more traditional gridding approach.

  4. Extended Data Fig. 4 IASI NH3 yearly distributions.

    Yearly NH3 maps (in molecules per square centimetre) over several hotspots: (from top to bottom) Marvdasht (Iran), Ferghana (Uzbekistan), Torreón (Mexico), Secunda (South Africa), Nicaro (Cuba; blue in Fig. 4), Bacau (Romania; orange in Fig. 4), Alto Laran district (Peru; green in Fig. 4), Anju (North Korea; purple in Fig. 4) and Wucaiwan (China; yellow in Fig. 4). The 2008 and 2009 distributions are noisier owing to reduced data availability (see Methods). The Wucaiwan industrial point source can be seen to appear in Landsat-5 (2008–2009), -7 (2010–2012) and -8 (2013–2016) images (bottom panels). Map data from Google Earth and Landsat/Copernicus.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    This file contains: Hotspot illustrations – a detailed six-panel figure is provided for each of the 28 hotspots (their location is indicated in Figure SI1) mentioned in the paper; NH3 lifetime table listing ammonia lifetime estimates reported in the literature; Uncertainty analyses of the different factors (data sampling, vertical profile, diurnal variability –Figure SI2– and background correction –Figure SI3–) that contribute to the overall uncertainty in the satellite-based NH3 emission estimates (Table SI2 and Figure SI4) and Supplementary References.

  2. Supplementary Data

    Catalogue of ammonia hotspots and regions - identified, categorized and quantified NH3 hotspots and source regions. For the hotspots, the file includes latitude (LAT, degree north), longitude (LON, degree east), name, province or state, country, source, satellite-based emission flux (IASI, kg/s), EDGAR emission flux from industry (EDGAR IND, kg/s), EDGAR emission flux from agriculture (EDGAR AGR, kg/s), area of the box considered (AREA, km2) and satellite based emission fluxes per hectare and per year (IASI, kg/ha/yr); for the source regions, the file includes latitude limits (MIN LAT and MAX LAT, degree north), longitude limits (MIN LON and MAX LON, degree east), name, province or state, country, source, satellite-based emission flux (IASI, kg/s), EDGAR total emission flux (EDGAR, kg/s), area of the region (AREA, km2) and satellite based emission fluxes per hectare and per year (IASI, kg/ha/yr).

  3. Supplementary Data

    Ammonia map and catalogue (KMZ). Global 9-year average of the IASI NH3 satellite observations at a hyperfine resolution (0.01°×0.01°) in KMZ format. The map has been saturated to 2∙1016 molec/cm2. The “IASI_NH3_9yr_AM_2e16_KMZ.zip” file includes a KMZ file that can be directly opened in Google Earth (once uncompressed) and consists of the NH3 map, the identified hotspots (industrial –NH3_hotspots_ind−, agricultural −NH3_hotspots_agr−, natural −NH3_hotspots_nat− and not determined −NH3_hotspots_nd−) and the source regions (NH3_regions).

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