Agriculture is a major source of NOx pollution in California

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Science Advances  31 Jan 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 1, eaao3477
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao3477

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Nitrogen oxides (NOx = NO + NO2) are a primary component of air pollution—a leading cause of premature death in humans and biodiversity declines worldwide. Although regulatory policies in California have successfully limited transportation sources of NOx pollution, several of the United States’ worst–air quality districts remain in rural regions of the state. Site-based findings suggest that NOx emissions from California’s agricultural soils could contribute to air quality issues; however, a statewide estimate is hitherto lacking. We show that agricultural soils are a dominant source of NOx pollution in California, with especially high soil NOx emissions from the state’s Central Valley region. We base our conclusion on two independent approaches: (i) a bottom-up spatial model of soil NOx emissions and (ii) top-down airborne observations of atmospheric NOx concentrations over the San Joaquin Valley. These approaches point to a large, overlooked NOx source from cropland soil, which is estimated to increase the NOx budget by 20 to 51%. These estimates are consistent with previous studies of point-scale measurements of NOx emissions from the soil. Our results highlight opportunities to limit NOx emissions from agriculture by investing in management practices that will bring co-benefits to the economy, ecosystems, and human health in rural areas of California.

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