A continuous-wave, rapidly swept cavity-ringdown spectroscopic technique has been developed for localized atmospheric sensing of trace gases at remote sites. It uses one or more passive open-path optical sensor units, coupled by optical fiber over distances of > 1 km to a single transmitter/receiver console incorporating a photodetector and a swept-frequency diode laser tuned to molecule-specific near-infrared wavelengths. Ways to avoid interference from stimulated Brillouin scattering in long optical fibers have been devised. This rugged open-path system, deployable in agricultural, industrial, and natural atmospheric environments, is used to monitor ammonia in air. A noise-limited minimum detectable mixing ratio of ∼11 ppbv is attained for ammonia in nitrogen at atmospheric pressure.