, Volume 93, Issue 1–2, pp 143–157 | Cite as

The regional and global significance of nitrogen removal in lakes and reservoirs

  • John A. HarrisonEmail author
  • Roxane J. Maranger
  • Richard B. Alexander
  • Anne E. Giblin
  • Pierre-Andre Jacinthe
  • Emilio Mayorga
  • Sybil P. Seitzinger
  • Daniel J. Sobota
  • Wilfred M. Wollheim


Human activities have greatly increased the transport of biologically available nitrogen (N) through watersheds to potentially sensitive coastal ecosystems. Lentic water bodies (lakes and reservoirs) have the potential to act as important sinks for this reactive N as it is transported across the landscape because they offer ideal conditions for N burial in sediments or permanent loss via denitrification. However, the patterns and controls on lentic N removal have not been explored in great detail at large regional to global scales. In this paper we describe, evaluate, and apply a new, spatially explicit, annual-scale, global model of lentic N removal called NiRReLa (Nitrogen Retention in Reservoirs and Lakes). The NiRReLa model incorporates small lakes and reservoirs than have been included in previous global analyses, and also allows for separate treatment and analysis of reservoirs and natural lakes. Model runs for the mid-1990s indicate that lentic systems are indeed important sinks for N and are conservatively estimated to remove 19.7 Tg N year−1 from watersheds globally. Small lakes (<50 km2) were critical in the analysis, retaining almost half (9.3 Tg N year−1) of the global total. In model runs, capacity of lakes and reservoirs to remove watershed N varied substantially at the half-degree scale (0–100%) both as a function of climate and the density of lentic systems. Although reservoirs occupy just 6% of the global lentic surface area, we estimate they retain ~33% of the total N removed by lentic systems, due to a combination of higher drainage ratios (catchment surface area:lake or reservoir surface area), higher apparent settling velocities for N, and greater average N loading rates in reservoirs than in lakes. Finally, a sensitivity analysis of NiRReLa suggests that, on-average, N removal within lentic systems will respond more strongly to changes in land use and N loading than to changes in climate at the global scale.


Nitrogen  Lakes  Reservoirs Denitrification Global limnology Nitrogen removal 



We would like to thank Jeff Cornwell and P. Mulholland for valuable input at early stages of this paper’s development. This paper is a product of a workshop on Denitrification Modeling Across Terrestrial, Freshwater, and Marine Systems, held November 28–30, 2006, at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY, with support from the Denitrification Research Coordination Network of the National Science Foundation, award DEB0443439 and the Northeastern States Research Cooperative (Grant # 02-CA-11242343-105). This research was also supported by grants to J.A. Harrison from the U.S. Geological Survey 104b program and R. Maranger (FQRNT Strategic Professor) and by the USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • John A. Harrison
    • 1
    Email author
  • Roxane J. Maranger
    • 2
  • Richard B. Alexander
    • 3
  • Anne E. Giblin
    • 4
  • Pierre-Andre Jacinthe
    • 5
  • Emilio Mayorga
    • 6
  • Sybil P. Seitzinger
    • 6
  • Daniel J. Sobota
    • 1
  • Wilfred M. Wollheim
    • 7
  1. 1.School of Earth and Environmental SciencesWashington State UniversityVancouverUSA
  2. 2.Département des Sciences BiologiquesUniversité de MontréalMontrealCanada
  3. 3.US Geological SurveyRestonUSA
  4. 4.Marine Biological LaboratoryThe Ecosystems CenterWoods HoleUSA
  5. 5.Indiana University-Purdue UniversityIndianapolisUSA
  6. 6.Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers/NOAA CMER ProgramRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA
  7. 7.Water Systems Analysis Group, Complex Systems Research Center, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and SpaceUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA

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