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Interactions between reactive nitrogen and the Canadian landscape: A budget approach

Clair, T.A., Pelletier, N., Bittman, S., Leip, A., Arp, P., Moran, M.D., Dennis, I., Niemi, D., Sterling, S., Drury, C.F., Yang, J. (2014). Interactions between reactive nitrogen and the Canadian landscape: A budget approach, 28(11), 1343-1357.


©2014. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. The movement of excess reactive nitrogen (Nr) from anthropogenic activities to natural ecosystems has been described as one of the most serious environmental threats facing modern society. One of the approaches for tracking this movement is the use of budgets that quantify fluxes. We constructed an Nr budget for Canada using measured and modeled values from the scientific literature, government databases, and data from new agri-environmental indicators, in order to produce information for policy makers and scientists to understand the major flows of nitrogen to allow a better assessment of risks to the Canadian environment. We divided the Canadian territory south of 60°N into areas dominated by natural ecosystems, as well as by agricultural and urban/industrial activities to evaluate Nr flows within, between, and out of these units.We show that Canada is a major exporter of Nr due to the availability of inexpensive commercial fertilizers. The large land area suitable for agriculture makes Canada a significant agricultural Nr exporter of both grain crops and livestock. Finally, Canada exports petroleum N mainly to the United States. Because of its location and prevailing atmospheric transport patterns, Canada is a net receptor of Nr air pollution from the United States, receiving approximately 20% of the Nr leaving the U.S. airshed. We found that overall, terrestrial natural ecosystems as well as the atmosphere are in balance between Nr inputs and outputs when all N reactive and nonreactive fluxes are included. However, when only reactive forms are considered, almost 50% of N entering the Canadian atmosphere cannot be accounted for and is assumed to be lost to the Atlantic and Arctic oceans or to unmeasured dry deposition. However, agricultural and freshwater landscapes are showing large differences betweenmeasured inputs and outputs of N as our data suggest that denitrification in soils and aquatic systems is larger than what models predict. Our work also shows that Canada is a major contributor to the global flow of nitrogen through commercial exports.

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