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The UK’s total nitrogen budget from 1990 to 2020: a transition from source to sink?

Worrall, F.; Burt, T.P.; Howden, N.J.K.; Whelan, M.J.

The UK’s total nitrogen budget from 1990 to 2020: a transition from source to sink? Thumbnail


T.P. Burt

N.J.K. Howden

M.J. Whelan


This study estimates the annual total nitrogen balance of the UK from 1990 to 2020. The following inputs of nitrogen are considered: inorganic fertilizer, atmospheric deposition; food and feed imports; and biological nitrogen fixation. The outputs considered compose: atmospheric emissions; direct losses of sewage and industrial effluent to the sea; fluvial losses at source; food and feed exports; and terrestrial denitrification. It is shown that: (1) Inputs of inorganic fertilizer declined significantly over the study period with both atmospheric deposition and food and feed imports significantly increasing. (2) Outputs of total N also significantly declined with all output pathways decreasing except for atmospheric emissions and terrestrial denitrification to N2. (3) The UK was a net source of total nitrogen in 1990 of approximately −1941 ± 224 kilotonnes N/year (−8 tonnes N/km2/year; inter-quartile range of ±0.9 tonnes/km2/year). However, by 2012, this net nitrogen source had decreased to about −1446 ± 195 kilotonnes N/year (−5.9 tonnes N/km2/year). The future total N balance of the UK is being driven by declines in outputs rather than changes in inputs. The largest declines are in the atmospheric emissions of reactive nitrogen (Nr) and the fluvial flux of N such that by 2020 to the total N budget is predicted to be −1042 (±246) kilotonnes N/year (−4.2 tonnes N/km2/year) and by 2031 the UK would be a net sink of total N.


Worrall, F., Burt, T., Howden, N., & Whelan, M. (2016). The UK’s total nitrogen budget from 1990 to 2020: a transition from source to sink?. Biogeochemistry, 129(3), 325-340.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 26, 2016
Online Publication Date Aug 19, 2016
Publication Date Sep 1, 2016
Deposit Date Nov 2, 2016
Publicly Available Date Nov 3, 2016
Journal Biogeochemistry
Print ISSN 0168-2563
Electronic ISSN 1573-515X
Publisher Springer
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 129
Issue 3
Pages 325-340


Published Journal Article (917 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
© The Author(s) 2016 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

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