Airborne observations over the North Atlantic Ocean reveal the first gas-phase measurements of urea in the atmosphere Journal Article uri icon



  • Despite the reduced nitrogen (N) cycle being central to global biogeochemistry, there are large uncertainties surrounding its sources and rate of cycling. Here, we present the first observations of gas-phase urea (CO(NH₂)₂) in the atmosphere from airborne high-resolution mass spectrometer measurements over the North Atlantic Ocean. We show that urea is ubiquitous in the marine lower troposphere during the Summer, Autumn and Winter flights but was found to be below the limit of detection during the Spring flights. The observations suggest the ocean is the primary emission source but further studies are required to understand the processes responsible for the air-sea exchange of urea. Urea is also frequently observed aloft due to long-range transport of biomass-burning plumes. These observations alongside global model simulations point to urea being an important, and as yet unaccounted for, component of reduced-N to the remote marine environment.  Since we show it readily partitions between gas and particle phases, airborne transfer of urea between nutrient rich and poor parts of the ocean can occur readily and could impact ecosystems and oceanic uptake of CO2, with potentially important atmospheric implications.  

publication date

  • May 15, 2023

has restriction

  • closed

Date in CU Experts

  • February 28, 2023 11:13 AM

Full Author List

  • Matthews E; Bannan T; Khan MA; Shallcross D; Stark H; Browne E; Archibald A; Bauguitte S; Reed C; Thamban N

author count

  • 20

Other Profiles