Global Nitrogen Cycle: Pre-Anthropocene Mass and Isotope Fluxes and the Effects of Human Perturbations

Young Ji Joo, Darcy Dan Li, Abraham Lerman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


We present a nitrogen cycle model for pre-industrial times based on an extensive literature database. The model consists of 18 reservoirs in the domains of the atmosphere, land, and ocean. The biotic reservoirs on land and in the ocean (N-fixing plants, non-N-fixing plants, and marine biota) interact with atmospheric N2 and dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN, consisting of N2, NO3 -, and NH4 +) in the ocean and soil waters. Marine DIN is taken up by marine biota and transformed from ocean particulate organic matter to dissolved organic nitrogen and the ocean sediment. The atmosphere, the largest nitrogen reservoir, supplies N2 to the system by N fixation, deposition, and dissolution, and these input fluxes are balanced by denitrification and volatilization back to the atmosphere. The land and ocean domains are linked by river transport, which carries both dissolved and particulate nitrogen to the oceanic coastal zone. The isotope-mass balances of the N reservoirs are calculated from the isotopic composition of the reservoirs and the fractionation factors accompanying the fluxes between the reservoirs based on reported values from different natural conditions. The model sensitivity was tested for different biouptake rates and was run with various human perturbations, including fertilization, nitrous oxide emissions, population-related sewage disposal, land-use changes, and temperature-dependent rate kinetics. The new N mass-isotope cycle model provides the basis for assessment of the impact of artificial fertilization between 1700 and 2050. The perturbation experiments in this study suggest that land-use change is the key factor altering the N mass cycle since industrialization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)477-500
Number of pages24
JournalAquatic Geochemistry
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Biological productivity
  • Fertilization
  • Human perturbations
  • Land-use change
  • Nitrogen cycle
  • Nitrogen isotope

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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