Ammonia emissions widely underestimated, ULB researchers say

Thursday, 06 December 2018 14:53
Ammonia emissions widely underestimated, ULB researchers say © Belga
Using satellite data, ULB researchers have been able to identify over 200 major sources of ammonia around the world, two thirds of which never identified before.
All are linked to industrial activities or to intensive agriculture, ULB says Wednesday. 

For over ten years, ULB researchers have analyzed data from satellites that screen our atmosphere to detect concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, ozone, ammonia, etc. This data allows them to assess the impact of human activities on air quality and climate change.

By combining nearly ten years of daily measurements, ULB researchers from the quantum chemistry and photo physical sector have developed a high resolution mapping of atmospheric ammonia. This allowed them to identify 242 major ammonia sources, two thirds of which having never been identified previously. All are related to industrial activities, mainly to the production of synthetic fertilizers and intensive farming.

Moreover, their research shows that, apart from the new identified sources, ammonia emissions from known sources are also widely underestimated in current inventories.

In other words, "emissions from industrial and agricultural activities are much more important than what we imagined," Martin Van Damme, researcher and co-author of the study, wrote in the prestigious scientific journal "Nature.”

The evolution of ammonia concentrations over the last decade has also made it possible to identify changes in human activities, such as the opening or closing of industrial plants, or the expansion of intensive livestock facilities.

For the researchers, "better management of ammonia impacts on pollution involves a complete overhaul of agricultural and industrial emissions, widely underestimated in the current land registers."

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