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NEW CRP: Global Monitoring of Nitrogen Isotopes in Atmospheric Waters (F32008)

Water quality degradation in surface water systems due to nitrogen pollution.

Water quality in many lakes and rivers around the globe is deteriorating due to rising nutrient loadings mainly of anthropogenic origin (e.g., agriculture, sewage, industrial discharges, and urban areas) causing changes in their ecological structure and function. Atmospheric wet deposition of NO3, which has been associated with increased NOx emissions, is an often overlooked potential source particularly in systems where the amount of N-deposition exceeds the remediation capacity of the system.

Sensitive aquatic ecosystems have low critical N loads, and if exceeded may lead to eutrophication of rivers and lakes, lake and stream acidification, loss of biodiversity and alteration of global nitrogen and carbon budget. The increasing production of food and energy worldwide has multiplied today's anthropogenic emissions of nitrogen compounds in the atmosphere, which are transported and deposited through precipitation on the terrestrial and aquatic systems. Better understanding of how N pollutants are introduced to terrestrial aquatic environments via wet deposition is important in order to define the contribution of atmospheric nitrogen in the degradation of water resources.

Environmental isotopes have been widely used not only to assess hydrological processes, but also to address water quality issues, such as nitrogen pollution. Isotope techniques constitute a promising tool for determining the spatio-temporal distribution of nitrogen isotopes in precipitation as a potential source of nitrogen pollution of water resources, especially of aquatic systems sensitive to eutrophication stressors. Overall, environmental isotopes can help in the assessment of the impact of nitrogen wet deposition on water quality and the development of more effective management practices to preserve water quality in aquatic systems.

Nuclear component

Measurement of 18O and 15N of nitrogenous compounds dissolved in precipitation water samples combined with additional environmental isotopes (e.g. 18O, 2H, 17O).

CRP overall objective

To improve capability and expertise among Member States in the use of environmental isotopes to better assess impacts of nitrogen wet deposition on water quality.

Specific research objectives

  1. Improve the application of N-isotopes combined with other isotope and chemistry substances to better define the origin of nitrogen in precipitation and evaluate the impact of nitrogen wet deposition on water resources and ecosystems.
  2. Explore the use of N-isotopes in precipitation networks in order to determine spatial patterns of N-isotope values that can be used to determine the relative contribution of nitrogen wet deposition in the degradation of water systems.
  3. Assess and improve the understanding and interpretation of nitrogen transformations related to wet deposition.

Expected research outcomes

  1. More experienced participating Member States in the routine use of environmental isotopes for the assessment of nitrogen wet deposition.
  2. Better understanding of possible environmental and anthropogenic impacts of nitrogen deposition on water resources for optimal water resources management and remediation strategies.

How to join the CRP?

Please submit your Proposal for Research Contract or Agreement by 31 March 2018 directly to the IAEA’s Research Contracts Administration Section, using the form templates on the CRA web site (preferably via email). For further information related to this CRP, potential applicants should contact the project officer, Ioannis Matiatos.


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