, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 137–169 | Cite as

Anthropogenic nitrogen sources and relationships to riverine nitrogen export in the northeastern U.S.A.

  • Elizabeth W. Boyer
  • Christine L. Goodale
  • Norbert A. Jaworski
  • Robert W. Howarth


Human activities have greatly altered the nitrogen (N) cycle, accelerating the rate of N fixation in landscapes and delivery of N to water bodies. To examine relationships between anthropogenic N inputs and riverine N export, we constructed budgets describing N inputs and losses for 16 catchments, which encompass a range of climatic variability and are major drainages to the coast of the North Atlantic Ocean along a latitudinal profile from Maine to Virginia. Using data from the early 1990's, we quantified inputs of N to each catchment from atmospheric deposition, application of nitrogenous fertilizers, biological nitrogen fixation, and import of N in agricultural products (food and feed). We compared these inputs with N losses from the system in riverine export.

The importance of the relative sources varies widely by catchment and is related to land use. Net atmospheric deposition was the largest N source (>60%) to the forested basins of northern New England (e.g. Penobscot and Kennebec); net import of N in food was the largest source of N to the more populated regions of southern New England (e.g. Charles & Blackstone); and agricultural inputs were the dominant N sources in the Mid-Atlantic region (e.g. Schuylkill & Potomac). Over the combined area of the catchments, net atmospheric deposition was the largest single source input (31%), followed by net imports of N in food and feed (25%), fixation in agricultural lands (24%), fertilizer use (15%), and fixation in forests (5%). The combined effect of fertilizer use, fixation in crop lands, and animal feed imports makes agriculture the largest overall source of N. Riverine export of N is well correlated with N inputs, but it accounts for only a fraction (25%) of the total N inputs. This work provides an understanding of the sources of N in landscapes, and highlights how human activities impact N cycling in the northeast region.

anthropogenic atmospheric deposition eutrophication food production nitrogen nitrogen budget nitrogen fixation rivers 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth W. Boyer
    • 1
  • Christine L. Goodale
    • 2
  • Norbert A. Jaworski
    • 3
  • Robert W. Howarth
    • 4
  1. 1.College of Environmental Science and ForestryState University of New YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Plant BiologyCarnegie Institution of WashingtonUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (retired)USA
  4. 4.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyCornell UniversityUSA

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