Net Anthropogenic Nitrogen Inputs in the Seattle, WA Metropolitan Area

Monday, 15 December 2014
Elisabeth K Larson, NASA, Washington, DC, United States and Marina Alberti, University of Washington Seattle Campus, Urban Design and Planning, Seattle, WA, United States
Nitrogen loading has been identified as a potential stressor to marine ecosystems of the Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, and the Washington State Department of Ecology has estimated that anthropogenic sources of dissolved inorganic nitrogen to the Sound are 2.7 times higher than natural loads (Mohamedali et al. 2011). The Seattle urban area, situated in the southeast of the Sound, has the largest population in the northwestern US. Heavily urbanized along the coast, the 4 counties comprising the region (Snohomish, King, Pierce, and Kitsap) also include forests and agriculture. Urban and agricultural areas tend to have substantial anthropogenic N loading due to fertilizer application, presence of N-fixing vegetation, N atmospheric deposition, and human and other animal waste. To determine the relative contribution of urban vs. rural agricultural activities to N loads from the Seattle region to the Puget Sound, we used the Net Anthropogenic Nitrogen Inputs (NANI) calculator developed by Hong et al. (2011) for the watersheds of this region. The NANI calculator uses nationally available datasets to calculate NANI as the sum of oxidized N deposition, fertilizer application, agricultural N fixation, net food and feed inputs, and net animal and human N consumption. We found that NANI ranged from approximately 100 to 1500 kg m-2 y-1, with some of the highest rates in watersheds with high impervious surface or agricultural areas with N-fixing crops or large fertilizer additions. Many of the agricultural watersheds have intervening low-NANI watershed between themselves and the coast, thus it is likely that agricultural NANI is attenuated before entering the Puget Sound. The urban areas in the region do not have these attenuating watersheds, and so are likely to be the main contributor to the observed total aquatic N yield. This information is helpful for developing policies to reduce N loading to the Sound.