A spatial total nitrogen budget for Great Britain

Xiangwen Fan, Fred Worrall, Lisa Baldini, Tim P. Burt

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Understanding nutrient budgets makes it possible to predict where and by how much nutrients are accumulating in the environment. Previous studies have considered this problem for nitrogen (N) but have limited themselves to reactive N species (i.e. excluding N2) or have considered total N (including N2) but have been limited to regional or national scales. In this study the spatially-distributed total nitrogen (N) budget of Great Britain (GB) was estimated at a 1 km2 grid scale. The inputs of N considered were: biological N fixation; atmospheric deposition; food and feed transfer; and inorganic synthetic fertilizer. The outputs of N considered were: atmospheric emission; terrestrial denitrification; fluvial loss from the soil; gaseous emissions from sewage treatment plants; direct sewage flux loss; and groundwater loss. All pathways were considered over a number of years. This study constructed a spatially-differentiated total N budget for GB, which not only includes all major N pathways but also distributes the N budget to various land uses with a 1 km2 spatial resolution. The results showed that both sink and source areas exist across GB, although the majority of 1 km2 grid squares were identified as sources. Based on a mass balance model calculated for 2015, total N exhibited a net flux of a source of −1045 (±244) ktonnes N/year. The spatial N budget across GB ranged from −21 (±3) tonnes N/year to 34 (±5) tonnes N/year, where 66% of grid squares were source areas and 34% were sink areas. Urban and arable land use were predominantly source areas: 97% of total urban land use and 98.5% of total arable land use. 65% of grassland was a sink area. The total amount of N released to the environment by human activity in 2015 was −16.65 kg N/ca/yr.
Original languageEnglish
Article number138864
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


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