Uncertainties in the fate of nitrogen I: An overview of sources of uncertainty illustrated with a Dutch case study

C. Kroeze, R. Aerts, N. van Breemen, D. van Dam, K. van der Hoek, P. Hofschreuder, M.R. Hoosbeek, J. de Klein, H. Kros, H. van Oene, O. Oenema, A. Tietema, R. van der Veeren, H. Verhoeven, W. de Vries

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This study focuses on the uncertainties in the fate of nitrogen (N) in the Netherlands. Nitrogen inputs into the Netherlands in products, by rivers, and by atmospheric deposition, and microbial and industrial fixation of atmospheric N2 amount to about 4450 Gg N y¿1. About 60% of this N is transported out of the Netherlands in products. The fate of the remaining 40%, however, is less clear. We discuss uncertainties in losses to the atmosphere (as ammonia or through denitrification), by leaching and runoff, and in N accumulation in biomass and soils. These processes may account for the fate of about 40% of the N in the Netherlands, and for the fate of about 60% of the N in Dutch agricultural soils. Reducing uncertainties in the estimates of these fluxes is necessary for reducing the impact of excess N in the environment. In particular, monitoring the environmental effects of ammonia emissions and nitrate leaching to groundwater and aquatic systems requires an increased understanding of the fate of N. Uncertainties arise because (1) some N fluxes cannot be measured directly and are usually quantified indirectly as the balance in N budgets, (2) direct measurements of N fluxes have inevitable inaccuracies, (3) lack of experimental data and other information (e.g. statistics) needed for upscaling, (4) large spatial and temporal variability of fluxes, and (5) poor understanding of the processes involved. These uncertainties can be reduced by additional experimental studies and by further development of process-based models and N budget studies. We prioritize these future research needs according to a range of different criteria
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-69
JournalNutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • soil chemistry
  • nitrates
  • emission
  • leaching
  • environmental impact
  • monitoring
  • nitrogen cycle
  • uncertainty
  • sources
  • netherlands
  • organic-matter accumulation
  • coastal marine ecosystems
  • forest ecosystems
  • oxide production
  • river-basins
  • managed grasslands
  • atlantic-ocean
  • dry deposition
  • n2o emission
  • world rivers


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