Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
Biogeosciences, 9, 57–70, 2012

Special issue: Nitrogen and global change

Biogeosciences, 9, 57–70, 2012

Research article 04 Jan 2012

Research article | 04 Jan 2012

Spatialized N budgets in a large agricultural Mediterranean watershed: high loading and low transfer

L. Lassaletta2,1, E. Romero2, G. Billen2, J. Garnier2, H. García-Gómez3,1, and J. V. Rovira1 L. Lassaletta et al.
  • 1Environmental Pollution and Aquatic Ecosystem Research Group, Department of Ecology, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, c/ José Antonio Novais 28040 Madrid, Spain
  • 2CNRS/UPMC, UMR 7619 Sisyphe, 4 place Jussieu, 75005 Paris, France
  • 3Ecotoxicology of Air Pollution, CIEMAT, Avda. Complutense 22, 28040, Madrid, Spain

Abstract. Despite the particular management practices and climate characteristics of the Mediterranean regions, the literature dealing with N budgets in large catchments subjected to Mediterranean conditions is scarce. The present study aims to deepen our knowledge on the N cycle within the Ebro River Basin (NE Spain) by means of two different approaches: (1) calculating a global N budget in the Ebro River Basin and (2) calculating a series of detailed regional budgets at higher geographical resolution. N inputs and outputs were spatialized by creating a map based on the most detailed information available. Fluvial and atmospheric N export was estimated together with N retention. The Ebro River Basin annually receives a relatively high amount of new N (5118 kg N km−2 yr−1), mostly in the form of synthetic fertilizers (50%). Although it is a highly productive catchment, the net N input as food and feed import is also high (33%). Only 8% of this N is finally exported to the delta zone. Several territorial units characterized by different predominant uses (rainfed agriculture, irrigated agriculture and pastures) have differentiated N dynamics. However, due to the high density of irrigation channels and reservoirs that characterize Mediterranean catchments, N retention is very high in all of them (median value, 91%). These results indicate that problems of eutrophication due to N delivery in the coastal area may not be too severe but that high N retention values may instead lead to problems within the catchment, such as pollution of aquifers and rivers, as well as high atmospheric emissions. The most promising management measures are those devoted to reducing agricultural surpluses through a better balanced N fertilization.

Final-revised paper