Articles | Volume 5, issue 5
Research article
11 May 2012
Research article |  | 11 May 2012

TRANC – a novel fast-response converter to measure total reactive atmospheric nitrogen

O. Marx, C. Brümmer, C. Ammann, V. Wolff, and A. Freibauer

Abstract. The input and loss of plant available nitrogen (reactive nitrogen: Nr) from/to the atmosphere can be an important factor for the productivity of ecosystems and thus for its carbon and greenhouse gas exchange. We present a novel converter for reactive nitrogen (TRANC: Total Reactive Atmospheric Nitrogen Converter), which offers the opportunity to quantify the sum of all airborne reactive nitrogen compounds (∑Nr) in high time resolution. The basic concept of the TRANC is the full conversion of all Nr to nitrogen monoxide (NO) within two reaction steps. Initially, reduced Nr compounds are being oxidised, and oxidised Nr compounds are thermally converted to lower oxidation states. Particulate Nr is being sublimated and oxidised or reduced afterwards. In a second step, remaining higher nitrogen oxides or those generated in the first step are catalytically converted to NO with carbon monoxide used as reduction gas. The converter is combined with a fast response chemiluminescence detector (CLD) for NO analysis and its performance was tested for the most relevant gaseous and particulate Nr species under both laboratory and field conditions. Recovery rates during laboratory tests for NH3 and NO2 were found to be 95 and 99%, respectively, and 97% when the two gases were combined. In-field longterm stability over an 11-month period was approved by a value of 91% for NO2. Effective conversion was also found for ammonium and nitrate containing particles. The recovery rate of total ambient Nr was tested against the sum of individual measurements of NH3, HNO3, HONO, NH4+, NO3, and NOx using a combination of different well-established devices. The results show that the TRANC-CLD system precisely captures fluctuations in ∑Nr concentrations and also matches the sum of all individual Nr compounds measured by the different single techniques. The TRANC features a specific design with very short distance between the sample air inlet and the place where the thermal and catalytic conversions to NO occur. This assures a short residence time of the sample air inside the instrument, and minimises wall sorption problems of water soluble compounds. The fast response time (e-folding times of 0.30 to 0.35 s were found during concentration step changes) and high accuracy in capturing the dominant Nr species enables the converter to be used in an eddy covariance setup. Although a source attribution of specific Nr compounds is not possible, the TRANC is a new reliable tool for permanent measurements of the net ∑Nr flux between ecosystem and atmosphere at a relatively low maintenance and reasonable cost level allowing for diurnal, seasonal and annual investigations.