Nitrogen retention in rivers: Model development and application to watersheds in the northeastern U.S.A.

Sybil P. Seitzinger, Renée V. Styles, Elizabeth W. Boyer, Richard B. Alexander, Gilles Billen, Robert W. Howarth, Bernhard Mayer, Nico Van Breemen

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430 Scopus citations


A regression model (RivR-N) was developed that predicts the proportion of N removed from streams and reservoirs as an inverse function of the water displacement time of the water body (ratio of water body depth to water time of travel). When applied to 16 drainage networks in the eastern U.S., the RivR-N model predicted that 37% to 76% of N input to these rivers is removed during transport through the river networks. Approximately half of that is removed in 1st through 4th order streams which account for 90% of the total stream length. The other half is removed in 5th order and higher rivers which account for only about 10% of the total stream length. Most N removed in these higher orders is predicted to originate from watershed loading to small and intermediate sized streams. The proportion of N removed from all streams in the watersheds (37-76%) is considerably higher than the proportion of N input to an individual reach that is removed in that reach (generally <20%) because of the cumulative effect of continued nitrogen removal along the entire flow path in downstream reaches. This generally has not been recognized in previous studies, but is critical to an evaluation of the total amount of N removed within a river network. At the river network scale, reservoirs were predicted to have a minimal effect on N removal. A fairly modest decrease (<10 percentage points) in the N removed at the river network scale was predicted when a third of the direct watershed loading was to the two highest orders compared to a uniform loading.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-237
Number of pages39
StatePublished - Jul 27 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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