Nitrogen use in the United States from 1961-2000 and potential future trends

Robert W. Howarth, Elizabeth W. Boyer, Wendy J. Pabich, James N. Galloway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

350 Scopus citations


Nitrogen inputs to the US from human activity doubled between 1961 and 1997, with most of the increase in the 1960s and 1970s. The largest increase was in use of inorganic N fertilizer, but emissions of NOx from fossil-fuel combustion also increased substantially. In 1961, N fixation in agricultural systems was the largest single source of reactive N in the US. By 1997, even though N fixation had increased, fertilizer use and NOx emissions had increased more rapidly and were both larger inputs. In both 1961 and 1997, two thirds of reactive N inputs were denitrified or stored in soils and biota, while one third was exported. The largest export was in riverine flux to coastal oceans, followed by export in food and feeds, and atmospheric advection to the oceans. The consumption of meat protein is a major driver behind N use in agriculture in the US Without change in diet or agricultural practices, fertilizer use will increase over next 30 years, and fluxes to coastal oceans may increase by another 30%. However, substantial reductions are possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)88-96
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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