Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Nitric acid vapor is produced by the same photochemical processes that produce ozone. In the laboratory, concentrated nitric acid is a strong acid and a powerful oxidant. In the environment, where the concentrations are much lower, it is an innocuous source of plant nitrogen. As an air pollutant, which mode of action does dry deposition of nitric acid follow? We investigated the effects of dry deposition of nitric acid on the foliage of four tree species native to the western United States. A novel controlled environment, fumigation system enabled a four-week exposure at concentrations consistent with ambient diurnal patterns. Scanning electron microscopy and automated image analysis revealed changes in the epicuticular wax layer during fumigation. Exposure to nitric acid resulted in a reproducible suite of damage symptoms that increased with increasing dose. Each tree species tested exhibited a unique set of damage features, including cracks, lesions, and conformation changes to epicuticular crystallite structures. Dry deposition of atmospheric nitric acid caused substantial perturbation to the epicuticular surface of all four tree species investigated, consistent with the chemical oxidation of epicuticular waxes. Automated image analysis eliminated many biases that can trouble microscopy studies.