Modeling atmospheric nitrogen deposition and transport in the Chesapeake Bay watershed

Scott A. Sheeder, James A. Lynch, Jeffrey Grimm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Atmospheric deposition of nitrate nitrogen and ammonium nitrogen has been identified as a major factor in the decline of water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. Reports have indicated that atmospheric deposition may account for 25 to 80% of the total nitrogen load entering the bay. However, uncertainties exist regarding the accuracy of the atmospheric deposition inputs, nitrogen retention coefficients, and in-stream nutrient uptake rates used in these studies. This project was designed to reassess the potential inputs of atmospheric nitrogen deposition to the bay through the use of a high-resolution wet deposition model, improved wet and dry deposition and nutrient retention estimates, existing soils and land use data, and geographic information systems software. Model results indicate that the methods used in previous studies may overestimate the contribution of atmospheric nitrate and ammonium deposition to the Chesapeake Bay watershed (CBW). Wet and dry atmospheric nitrate and ammonium nitrogen deposition estimates to the CBW ranged from 52.7 to 141.9 and 41.9 to 60.1 million kg/yr, respectively, between 1984 and 1996. Dry and total atmospheric deposition loads to the watershed are substantially less than previous estimates. Estimates of the percent contribution of atmospherically deposited nitrogen to the Chesapeake Bay represent between 20 and 32% of the total nitrate and ammonium nitrogen load to the watershed from all nitrogen sources. While these estimates are lower than many other published estimates, regression analysis of model parameters, nitrogen retention coefficients, output, and measured in-stream nitrogen loads indicate that the calculated nitrogen loads may still be too high.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1194-1206
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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