Long-Term Trajectory of Nitrogen Loading and Delivery From Mississippi River Basin to the Gulf of Mexico

Hanqin Tian, Rongting Xu, Shufen Pan, Yuanzhi Yao, Zihao Bian, Wei Jun Cai, Charles S. Hopkinson, Dubravko Justic, Steven Lohrenz, Chaoqun Lu, Wei Ren, Jia Yang

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44 Scopus citations


The large areal extent of hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico has been partially attributed to substantial nitrogen (N) loading from the Mississippi River basin, which is driven by multiple natural and human factors. The available water quality monitoring data and most of the current models are insufficient to fully quantify N load magnitude and the underlying controls. Here we use a process-based Dynamic Land Ecosystem Model to examine how multiple factors (synthetic N fertilizer, atmospheric N deposition, land use changes, climate variability, and increasing atmospheric CO2) have affected the loading and delivery of total nitrogen (TN) consisting of ammonium and nitrate (dissolved inorganic N) and total organic nitrogen from the Mississippi River basin during 1901–2014. The model results indicate that TN export during 2000–2014 was twofold larger than that in the first decade of twentieth century: Dissolved inorganic N export increased by 140% dominated by nitrate; total organic nitrogen export increased by 53%. The substantial enrichment of TN export since the 1960s was strongly associated with increased anthropogenic N inputs (synthetic N fertilizer and atmospheric N deposition). The greatest export of TN was in the spring. Although the implementation of N reduction has been carried out over the past three decades, total N loads to the northern Gulf of Mexico have not decreased significantly. Due to the legacy effect from historical N accumulation in soils and riverbeds, a larger reduction in synthetic N fertilizer inputs as well as improved N management practices are needed to alleviate ocean hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2019GB006475
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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