Since 1986 the work of Prof. Sutton has focused primarily on the emission, behavior and fate of ammonia in the atmosphere. His work spans a wide range of disciplines from micrometeorology and atmospheric chemistry to plant ecology and policy analysis. The largest aspect of the work has concerned the measurement of ammonia biosphere-atmosphere exchange with terrestrial ecosystems, resulting in new conceptual and quantitative models. Prof. Sutton has developed a suite of tools to quantify the impacts of ammonia over the UK for Defra and other government organisations, including the ‘FRAME’, ‘SCAIL’ and ‘EMEP4UK’ models, and the National Ammonia Monitoring Network.
Prof. Sutton has led a series of key national and international collaborative projects on ammonia. In the 1990s he was the coordinator of the European Commission projects: EXAMINE (EXchange of AMmonia IN European ecosystems; 8 institutes) and GRAMINAE (GRassland AMmonia INteractions Across Europe, 8 institutes). His involvement in the latter led to him being appointed Executive Secretary of the European Commission “Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Initiative (TERI)”.
In recent years, Prof. Sutton has focused on developing the links between ammonia and other nitrogen compounds in the environment. He coordinated the LANAS (Landscape Analysis of Nitrogen and Abatement Strategies) project of the NERC GANE programme and coordinated the NitroEurope Integrated Project, 2006-2011 (€28M, 64 partner institutes) addressing the net effect of nitrogen on the European greenhouse gas balance. In developing the European platform established by NitroEurope, Prof Sutton led the first European Nitrogen Assessment, under the European Science Foundation NinE (Nitrogen in Europe), published by Cambridge University Press in April 2011.
He is chair of the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI), a joint project of the IGBP and SCOPE and is co-chair of the Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen (TFRN), a body of the UN-ECE Geneva Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution. His work in these areas has included preparing options for revision of the UNECE Gothenburg Protocol and developing a vision of how the global nitrogen challenge can be communicated to society. His 4-minute video distilling the findings of the European Nitrogen Assessment can now be found on YouTube.
Since 2012 Prof Sutton has been working with the United Nations Environment Programme supporting their work through the Global Programme of Action on the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), leading the provision of science advice the GPA 3rd Intergovernmental Review (IGR-3, Manila). This subsequently led to his leadership of the Global Overview on Nutrient Management for UNEP ‘Our Nutrient World’ (2013) and his spearhearding of the ‘International Nitrogen Management System’ as a developing mechanism of science support for the the emerging ‘nitrogen policy arena’.