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Ammonia in the environment: from ancient times to the present

By Mark A. Sutton, Jan Willem Erisman, Frank Dentener and Detlev Moller


Recent research on atmospheric ammonia has made good progress in quantifying sources/sinks and environmental impacts. This paper reviews the achievements and places them in their historical context. It considers the role of ammonia in the development of agricultural science and air chemistry, showing how these arose out of foundations in 18th century chemistry and medieval alchemy, and then identifies the original environmental sources from which the ancients obtained ammonia. Ammonia is revealed as a compound of key human interest through the centuries, with a central role played by sal ammoniac in alchemy and the emergence of modern science. The review highlights how recent environmental research has emphasized volatilization sources of ammonia. Conversely, the historical records emphasize the role of high-temperature sources, including dung burning, coal burning, naturally burning coal seams and volcanoes. Present estimates of ammonia emissions from these sources are based on few measurements, which should be a future priority.\ud \ud Past ammonia applications reveal new emphases in biospheric transformations.\ud \ud Keywords: Emissions; Deposition; Air chemistry; NH3 sal ammoniac; Alchemy; Nushadir\ud \u

Topics: Atmospheric Sciences
Year: 2008
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.envpol.2008.03.013
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