, Volume 93, Issue 3, pp 219–233 | Cite as

Watershed nitrogen input and riverine export on the west coast of the US

  • Sylvia C. Schaefer
  • James T. Hollibaugh
  • Merryl AlberEmail author


This study evaluated the sources, sinks, and factors controlling net export of nitrogen (N) from watersheds on the west coast of the US. We calculated input of new N to 22 watersheds for 1992 and 2002. 1992 inputs ranged from 541 to 11,644 kg N km−2 year−1, with an overall area-weighted average of 1,870 kg N km−2 year−1. In 2002, the range of inputs was 490–10,875 kg N km−2 year−1, averaging 2,158 kg N km−2 year−1. Fertilizer was the most important source of new N, averaging 956 (1992) and 1,073 kg N km−2 year−1 (2002). Atmospheric deposition was the next most important input, averaging 833 (1992) and 717 kg N km−2 year−1 (2002), followed by biological N fixation in agricultural lands. Riverine N export, calculated based on measurements taken at the furthest downstream USGS water quality monitoring station, averaged 165 (1992) and 196 kg N km−2 year−1 (2002), although data were available for only 7 watersheds at the latter time point. Downstream riverine N export was correlated with variations in streamflow (export = 0.94 × streamflow − 5.65, R 2 = 0.66), with N inputs explaining an additional 16% of the variance (export = 1.06 × streamflow + 0.06 × input − 227.78, R 2 = 0.82). The percentage of N input that is exported averaged 12%. Percent export was also related to streamflow (%export = 0.05 × streamflow − 2.61, R 2 = 0.60). The correlations with streamflow are likely a result of its large dynamic range in these systems. However, the processes that control watershed N export are not yet completely understood.


Nitrogen budgets Nutrient inputs Riverine export Watersheds West coast 



We thank Adrian Burd and Joan Sheldon for useful discussions on statistics, and the staff of the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services for providing shapefiles of wastewater treatment plant service areas. We also thank an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments which improved the manuscript. Funding was provided by the Georgia Coastal Ecosystems LTER Project (NSF Award OCE-0620959) and Coastal Incentive Grant #NA170Z2331.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sylvia C. Schaefer
    • 1
  • James T. Hollibaugh
    • 1
  • Merryl Alber
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Marine SciencesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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