Intentional versus unintentional nitrogen use in the United States: trends, efficiency and implications Journal Article


Authors: Houlton, Benjamin Z.; Boyer, Elizabeth; Finzi, Adrien; Galloway, James; Leach, Allison; Liptzin, Daniel; Melillo, Jerry; Rosenstock, Todd S.; Sobota, Dan; Townsend, Alan R.
Article Title: Intentional versus unintentional nitrogen use in the United States: trends, efficiency and implications
Abstract: Human actions have both intentionally and unintentionally altered the global economy of nitrogen (N), with both positive and negative consequences for human health and welfare, the environment and climate change. Here we examine long-term trends in reactive N (Nr) creation and efficiencies of Nr use within the continental US. We estimate that human actions in the US have increased Nr inputs by at least similar to 5 times compared to pre-industrial conditions. Whereas N-2 fixation as a by-product of fossil fuel combustion accounted for similar to 1/4 of Nr inputs from the 1970s to 2000 (or similar to 7 Tg N year(-1)), this value has dropped substantially since then (to lt; 5 Tg N year(-1)), owing to Clean Air Act amendments. As of 2007, national N use efficiency (NUE) of all combined N inputs was equal to similar to 40 %. This value increases to 55 % when considering intentional N inputs alone, with food, industrial goods, fuel and fiber production accounting for the largest Nr sinks, respectively. We estimate that 66 % of the N lost during the production of goods and services enters the air (as NO (x) , NH3, N2O and N-2), with the remaining 34 % lost to various waterways. These Nr losses contribute to smog formation, acid rain, eutrophication, biodiversity declines and climate change. Hence we argue that an improved national NUE would: (i) benefit the US economy on the production side; (ii) reduce social damage costs; and (iii) help avoid some major climate change risks in the future.
Keywords: ECOSYSTEMS; CARBON; DENITRIFICATION; carbon storage; CLIMATE-CHANGE; NITROGEN; phosphorus; CLIMATE; eutrophication; CYCLE; EFFICIENCY; DEPOSITION; MANAGEMENT; United States; TERRESTRIAL BIOSPHERE; Economics
Journal Title: Biogeochemistry
Volume: 114
Issue: 1-3
ISSN: 0168-2563
Publisher: Springer Verlag  
Publication Place: DORDRECHT; VAN GODEWIJCKSTRAAT 30, 3311 GZ DORDRECHT, NETHERLANDS
Date Published: 2013
Start Page: 11
End Page: 23
DOI/URL:
Notes: PT: J; TC: 2; UT: WOS:000320718200002
Woods Hole Authors
  1. Jerry M. Melillo
    244 Melillo
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