A high-resolution assessment on global nitrogen flows in cropland

Core message

Crop production is the single largest cause of human alteration of the global nitrogen cycle. We present a comprehensive assessment of global nitrogen flows in cropland for the year 2000 with a spatial resolution of 5 arc-minutes. We calculated a total nitrogen input (IN) of 136.60 trillion grams (Tg) of N per year, of which almost half is contributed by mineral nitrogen fertilizers, and a total nitrogen output (OUT) of 148.14 Tg of N per year, of which 55% is uptake by harvested crops and crop residues.

We present high-resolution maps quantifying the spatial distribution of nitrogen IN and OUT flows, soil nitrogen balance, and surface nitrogen balance. The high-resolution data are aggregated at the national level on a per capita basis to assess nitrogen stress levels. The results show that almost 80% of African countries are confronted with nitrogen scarcity or nitrogen stress problems, which, along with poverty, cause food insecurity and malnutrition. The assessment also shows a global average nitrogen recovery rate of 59%, indicating that nearly two-fifths of nitrogen inputs are lost in ecosystems. More effective management of nitrogen is essential to reduce the deleterious environmental consequences.

Full citation

Liu, J., You, L., Amini, M., Obersteiner, M., Herrero, M., Zehnder, A.J.B. and Yang, H. 2010. A high-resolution assessment on global nitrogen flows in cropland. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(17): 8035-8040.