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Nitrous oxide Sources - Atmosphere

Small clouds in a blue skyThe atmosphere acts as a source for nitrous oxide through the oxidation of ammonia (NH3). In total, atmospheric ammonia oxidation is thought to be responsible for about 600 thousand tonnes of atmospheric nitrous oxide-N each year.

The primary sources of atmospheric ammonia are man-made, with the largest increases in emissions in recent decades being due to increased global livestock farming.

Ammonia is emitted from both solid and liquid livestock waste and can also induce nitrous oxide production in soils by deposition after its initial release. Plumes of ammonia can often be detected arising from intensive livestock rearing facilities, such as poultry and pig farms.

Human Impact

Livestock are the largest source of atmospheric ammonia emission, with areas of extensive animal rearing giving 'hot spots' of ammonia production as described above. Fertilizer application and agricultural chemical use are also significant sources of atmospheric ammonia, as is fossil fuel powered transport.

Potential for control

The ever increasing demand for cheap meat on a global scale has led to a rapid increase in large scale intensive livestock rearing. Such facilities give rise to large amounts of ammonia, some of which then contributes to the atmospheric nitrous oxide burden. Better livestock rearing and land use practices may substantially reduce such emissions and, in the long term, more extensive farming and higher meat prices are likely to be required.

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