Emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O) from the world’s river networks constitute a poorly constrained term in the global N2O budget1,2. This N2O component was previously estimated as indirect emissions from agricultural soils3 with large uncertainties4,5,6,7,8,9,10. Here, we present an improved model representation of nitrogen and N2O processes of the land–ocean aquatic continuum11 constrained with an ensemble of 11 data products. The model–data framework provides a quantification for how changes in nitrogen inputs (fertilizer, deposition and manure), climate and atmospheric CO2 concentration, and terrestrial processes have affected the N2O emissions from the world’s streams and rivers during 1900–2016. The results show a fourfold increase of global riverine N2O emissions from 70.4 ± 15.4 Gg N2O-N yr−1 in 1900 to 291.3 ± 58.6 Gg N2O-N yr−1 in 2016, although the N2O emissions started to decline after the early 2000s. The small rivers in headwater zones (lower than fourth-order streams) contributed up to 85% of global riverine N2O emissions. Nitrogen loads on headwater streams and groundwater from human activities, primarily agricultural nitrogen applications, play an important role in the increase of global riverine N2O emissions.
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The relevant code of this study is available from the corresponding author on request.
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This research was made possible partly by NSF grant nos. 1903722 and 1243232; NASA grant nos. NNX14AO73G, NNX10AU06G, NNX11AD47G and NNX14AF93G; NOAA grant nos. NA16NOS4780207 and NA16NOS4780204; Ocean University of China-Auburn University Joint Progam; and Andrew Carnegie Fellowship Award no. G-F-19-56910. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Yao, Y., Tian, H., Shi, H. et al. Increased global nitrous oxide emissions from streams and rivers in the Anthropocene. Nat. Clim. Chang. (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0665-8