Prominence of the tropics in the recent rise of global nitrogen pollution

Publication Year


Journal Article

Nitrogen (N) pollution is shaped by multiple processes, the combined effects of which remain uncertain, particularly in the tropics. We use a global land biosphere model to analyze historical terrestrial-freshwater N budgets, considering the effects of anthropogenic N inputs, atmospheric CO2, land use, and climate. We estimate that globally, land currently sequesters 11 (10–13)% of annual N inputs. Some river basins, however, sequester >50% of their N inputs, buffering coastal waters against eutrophication and society against greenhouse gas-induced warming. Other basins, releasing >25% more than they receive, are mostly located in the tropics, where recent deforestation, agricultural intensification, and/or exports of land N storage can create large N pollution sources. The tropics produce 56 ± 6% of global land N pollution despite covering only 34% of global land area and receiving far lower amounts of fertilizers than the extratropics. Tropical land use should thus be thoroughly considered in managing global N pollution.

Nature Communications
Date Published
March 2019
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