Impacts of enhanced fertilizer applications on tropospheric ozone and crop damage over sub-Saharan Africa

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Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences; Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering


Fertilizer-induced nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to increase substantially in the coming decades, driven by increasing application of fertilizers to increase crop yields in an effort to attain food security across the continent. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, surface ozone (O3) is sensitive to increasing atmospheric concentrations of NOx. In this study, we employ the GEOS-Chem chemical transport model to conduct a preliminary investigation of the impacts on O3 air quality and the consequential crop damage associated with increasing fertilizer-induced NOx emissions in sub-Saharan Africa. Our simulation results, constrained by field NO flux measurements for the years 2011 and 2012 in response to a variety of fertilizer application rates in western Kenya, show that the enhancements in NO flux with fertilizer application rate of 150 kg N ha−1 can increase surface NOx and O3 concentrations by up to 0.36 and 2.8 ppbv respectively during the growing season. At the same time, accumulated O3 exposure during the crop growing season (expressed as AOT40 values) could increase by up to 496 ppb h, leading to crop yield decline of about 0.8% for O3-sensitive crops. Our results suggest that, when accounting for the consequential impacts on surface O3 air quality and crop damage over sub-Saharan Africa, agricultural intensification is possible without substantial impacts on crop productivity because the relatively small decline of crop yield resulting from O3 damage appears unlikely to outweigh the gain in crop yield from fertilization.

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Atmospheric Environment