Intentional versus unintentional nitrogen use in the United States: Trends, efficiency and implications

Benjamin Z. Houlton, Elizabeth Boyer, Adrien Finzi, James Galloway, Allison Leach, Daniel Liptzin, Jerry Melillo, Todd S. Rosenstock, Dan Sobota, Alan R. Townsend

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

41 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Human actions have both intentionally and unintentionally altered the global economy of nitrogen (N), with both positive and negative consequences for human health and welfare, the environment and climate change. Here we examine long-term trends in reactive N (Nr) creation and efficiencies of Nr use within the continental US. We estimate that human actions in the US have increased Nr inputs by at least ~5 times compared to pre-industrial conditions. Whereas N2 fixation as a by-product of fossil fuel combustion accounted for ~1/4 of Nr inputs from the 1970s to 2000 (or ~7 Tg N year-1), this value has dropped substantially since then (to <5 Tg N year-1), owing to Clean Air Act amendments. As of 2007, national N use efficiency (NUE) of all combined N inputs was equal to ~40 %. This value increases to 55 % when considering intentional N inputs alone, with food, industrial goods, fuel and fiber production accounting for the largest Nr sinks, respectively. We estimate that 66 % of the N lost during the production of goods and services enters the air (as NOx, NH3, N2O and N2), with the remaining 34 % lost to various waterways. These Nr losses contribute to smog formation, acid rain, eutrophication, biodiversity declines and climate change. Hence we argue that an improved national NUE would: (i) benefit the US economy on the production side; (ii) reduce social damage costs; and (iii) help avoid some major climate change risks in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-23
Number of pages13
JournalBiogeochemistry
Volume114
Issue number1-3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

Fingerprint

Climate change
Nitrogen
climate change
nitrogen
Acid Rain
Eutrophication
smog
Biodiversity
global economy
air
acid rain
Air
Fossil fuels
fossil fuel
fixation
Byproducts
eutrophication
combustion
Health
biodiversity

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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

Cite this

Houlton, B. Z., Boyer, E., Finzi, A., Galloway, J., Leach, A., Liptzin, D., ... Townsend, A. R. (2013). Intentional versus unintentional nitrogen use in the United States: Trends, efficiency and implications. Biogeochemistry, 114(1-3), 11-23. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-012-9801-5
Houlton, Benjamin Z. ; Boyer, Elizabeth ; Finzi, Adrien ; Galloway, James ; Leach, Allison ; Liptzin, Daniel ; Melillo, Jerry ; Rosenstock, Todd S. ; Sobota, Dan ; Townsend, Alan R. / Intentional versus unintentional nitrogen use in the United States : Trends, efficiency and implications. In: Biogeochemistry. 2013 ; Vol. 114, No. 1-3. pp. 11-23.
@article{63789d988c7b483f9e742a2c8f572fb9,
title = "Intentional versus unintentional nitrogen use in the United States: Trends, efficiency and implications",
abstract = "Human actions have both intentionally and unintentionally altered the global economy of nitrogen (N), with both positive and negative consequences for human health and welfare, the environment and climate change. Here we examine long-term trends in reactive N (Nr) creation and efficiencies of Nr use within the continental US. We estimate that human actions in the US have increased Nr inputs by at least ~5 times compared to pre-industrial conditions. Whereas N2 fixation as a by-product of fossil fuel combustion accounted for ~1/4 of Nr inputs from the 1970s to 2000 (or ~7 Tg N year-1), this value has dropped substantially since then (to <5 Tg N year-1), owing to Clean Air Act amendments. As of 2007, national N use efficiency (NUE) of all combined N inputs was equal to ~40 {\%}. This value increases to 55 {\%} when considering intentional N inputs alone, with food, industrial goods, fuel and fiber production accounting for the largest Nr sinks, respectively. We estimate that 66 {\%} of the N lost during the production of goods and services enters the air (as NOx, NH3, N2O and N2), with the remaining 34 {\%} lost to various waterways. These Nr losses contribute to smog formation, acid rain, eutrophication, biodiversity declines and climate change. Hence we argue that an improved national NUE would: (i) benefit the US economy on the production side; (ii) reduce social damage costs; and (iii) help avoid some major climate change risks in the future.",
author = "Houlton, {Benjamin Z.} and Elizabeth Boyer and Adrien Finzi and James Galloway and Allison Leach and Daniel Liptzin and Jerry Melillo and Rosenstock, {Todd S.} and Dan Sobota and Townsend, {Alan R.}",
year = "2013",
month = "1",
day = "1",
doi = "10.1007/s10533-012-9801-5",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "114",
pages = "11--23",
journal = "Biogeochemistry",
issn = "0168-2563",
publisher = "Springer Netherlands",
number = "1-3",

}

Houlton, BZ, Boyer, E, Finzi, A, Galloway, J, Leach, A, Liptzin, D, Melillo, J, Rosenstock, TS, Sobota, D & Townsend, AR 2013, 'Intentional versus unintentional nitrogen use in the United States: Trends, efficiency and implications', Biogeochemistry, vol. 114, no. 1-3, pp. 11-23. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-012-9801-5

Intentional versus unintentional nitrogen use in the United States : Trends, efficiency and implications. / Houlton, Benjamin Z.; Boyer, Elizabeth; Finzi, Adrien; Galloway, James; Leach, Allison; Liptzin, Daniel; Melillo, Jerry; Rosenstock, Todd S.; Sobota, Dan; Townsend, Alan R.

In: Biogeochemistry, Vol. 114, No. 1-3, 01.01.2013, p. 11-23.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

TY - JOUR

T1 - Intentional versus unintentional nitrogen use in the United States

T2 - Trends, efficiency and implications

AU - Houlton, Benjamin Z.

AU - Boyer, Elizabeth

AU - Finzi, Adrien

AU - Galloway, James

AU - Leach, Allison

AU - Liptzin, Daniel

AU - Melillo, Jerry

AU - Rosenstock, Todd S.

AU - Sobota, Dan

AU - Townsend, Alan R.

PY - 2013/1/1

Y1 - 2013/1/1

N2 - Human actions have both intentionally and unintentionally altered the global economy of nitrogen (N), with both positive and negative consequences for human health and welfare, the environment and climate change. Here we examine long-term trends in reactive N (Nr) creation and efficiencies of Nr use within the continental US. We estimate that human actions in the US have increased Nr inputs by at least ~5 times compared to pre-industrial conditions. Whereas N2 fixation as a by-product of fossil fuel combustion accounted for ~1/4 of Nr inputs from the 1970s to 2000 (or ~7 Tg N year-1), this value has dropped substantially since then (to <5 Tg N year-1), owing to Clean Air Act amendments. As of 2007, national N use efficiency (NUE) of all combined N inputs was equal to ~40 %. This value increases to 55 % when considering intentional N inputs alone, with food, industrial goods, fuel and fiber production accounting for the largest Nr sinks, respectively. We estimate that 66 % of the N lost during the production of goods and services enters the air (as NOx, NH3, N2O and N2), with the remaining 34 % lost to various waterways. These Nr losses contribute to smog formation, acid rain, eutrophication, biodiversity declines and climate change. Hence we argue that an improved national NUE would: (i) benefit the US economy on the production side; (ii) reduce social damage costs; and (iii) help avoid some major climate change risks in the future.

AB - Human actions have both intentionally and unintentionally altered the global economy of nitrogen (N), with both positive and negative consequences for human health and welfare, the environment and climate change. Here we examine long-term trends in reactive N (Nr) creation and efficiencies of Nr use within the continental US. We estimate that human actions in the US have increased Nr inputs by at least ~5 times compared to pre-industrial conditions. Whereas N2 fixation as a by-product of fossil fuel combustion accounted for ~1/4 of Nr inputs from the 1970s to 2000 (or ~7 Tg N year-1), this value has dropped substantially since then (to <5 Tg N year-1), owing to Clean Air Act amendments. As of 2007, national N use efficiency (NUE) of all combined N inputs was equal to ~40 %. This value increases to 55 % when considering intentional N inputs alone, with food, industrial goods, fuel and fiber production accounting for the largest Nr sinks, respectively. We estimate that 66 % of the N lost during the production of goods and services enters the air (as NOx, NH3, N2O and N2), with the remaining 34 % lost to various waterways. These Nr losses contribute to smog formation, acid rain, eutrophication, biodiversity declines and climate change. Hence we argue that an improved national NUE would: (i) benefit the US economy on the production side; (ii) reduce social damage costs; and (iii) help avoid some major climate change risks in the future.

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=84879206856&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=84879206856&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1007/s10533-012-9801-5

DO - 10.1007/s10533-012-9801-5

M3 - Article

AN - SCOPUS:84879206856

VL - 114

SP - 11

EP - 23

JO - Biogeochemistry

JF - Biogeochemistry

SN - 0168-2563

IS - 1-3

ER -