Denitrification across landscapes and waterscapes: a synthesis

S.P. Seitzinger, J.A. Harrison, J.K. Böhlke, A.F. Bouwman, R. Lowrance, B. Peterson, C. Tobias, G.V. Drecht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

987 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Denitrification is a critical process regulating the removal of bioavailable nitrogen (N) from natural and human-altered systems. While it has been extensively studied in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems, there has been limited communication among denitrification scientists working in these individual systems. Here, we compare rates of denitrification and controlling factors across a range of ecosystem types. We suggest that terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems in which denitrification occurs can be organized along a continuum ranging from (1) those in which nitrification and denitrification are tightly coupled in space and time to (2) those in which nitrate production and denitrification are relatively decoupled. In aquatic ecosystems, N inputs influence denitrification rates whereas hydrology and geomorphology influence the proportion of N inputs that are denitrified. Relationships between denitrification and water residence time and N load are remarkably similar across lakes, river reaches, estuaries, and continental shelves. Spatially distributed global models of denitrification suggest that continental shelf sediments account for the largest portion (44%) of total global denitrification, followed by terrestrial soils (22%) and oceanic oxygen minimum zones (OMZs; 14%). Freshwater systems (groundwater, lakes, rivers) account for about 20% and estuaries 1% of total global denitrification. Denitrification of land-based N sources is distributed somewhat differently. Within watersheds, the amount of land-based N denitrified is generally highest in terrestrial soils, with progressively smaller amounts denitrified in groundwater, rivers, lakes and reservoirs, and estuaries. A number of regional exceptions to this general trend of decreasing denitrification in a downstream direction exist, including significant denitrification in continental shelves of N from terrestrial sources. Though terrestrial soils and groundwater are responsible for much denitrification at the watershed scale, per-area denitrification rates in soils and groundwater (kg N·km¿2·yr¿1) are, on average, approximately one-tenth the per-area rates of denitrification in lakes, rivers, estuaries, continental shelves, or OMZs. A number of potential approaches to increase denitrification on the landscape, and thus decrease N export to sensitive coastal systems exist. However, these have not generally been widely tested for their effectiveness at scales required to significantly reduce N export at the whole watershed scale
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2064-2090
JournalEcological Applications
Volume16
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2006

Keywords

  • continental-shelf sediments
  • coastal marine ecosystems
  • gulf-of-mexico
  • isotope pairing technique
  • nitrous-oxide production
  • tropical north pacific
  • mass-balance approach
  • nitrate-rich streams
  • new-england estuary
  • seasonal-variation

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Denitrification across landscapes and waterscapes: a synthesis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this