Oxidized reactive nitrogen in the atmosphere mainly consists of nitrogen oxides (NO X =NO+NO2, NO3) and nitric acid. The atmospheric cycling of NO X influences the formation of ozone and hydroxyl radicals that are important for atmospheric oxidation capacity. Nitric acid, the final product of NO X oxidation, not only is an important component of particulate pollutants, but also has a direct impact on the ecosystem through dry and wet deposition.
The stable nitrogen isotope (δ15N) shows the potential to study reactive nitrogen cycle, and to trace the emission, transport and deposition of reactive nitrogen from local to global scales. Here, we reviewed previous studies using δ15N to investigate NO X emission and atmospheric reactive nitrogen cycle, and discuss the uncertainties of δ15N signatures of different NO X sources from two aspects: NO X generation mechanism and NO X collection methods. We also discussed the nitrogen isotope fractionation and the consequences during the conversions of NO y molecules. We ended up with discussions on the possibility of using δ15N to trace NO X emissions. Although there are still large uncertainties in quantifying and tracing NO X emissions using nitrogen stable isotopes, such isotope tool is efficient enough to trace reactive nitrogen cycles in the atmosphere. On the basis of this, we proposed that we can combine atmospheric chemistry transmission models with isotope tracers to improve our understanding of regional and global atmospheric reactive nitrogen cycle regarding the fluxes of different emission sources, their atmospheric transformation, etc.