Assessing dissolved inorganic nitrogen flux in the Yangtze River, China: Sources and scenarios

Authors Xu, H.; Chen, Z.; Finlayson, B.; Webber, M.; Wu, X.; Li, M.; Chen, J.; Wei, T.; Barnett, J.; Wang, M.
Year of Publication 2013
Type of Publication Journal Article
Journal Global And Planetary Change
Volume 106
Issue 7
Pagination 84-89
Open Access No


This study gives a thorough assessment of the occurrences of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) in the Yangtze River in the past half century. The results have shown that nitrogen fertilizer, a major DIN source, has been replaced by domestic sewage in the last decade, which has dramatically driven up DIN loads in the Yangtze. DIN concentrations showed a rapid increase from <0.5 mg L-1 in the 1960s to nearly 1.5 mg L-1 at the end of the 1990s. Since then DIN has remained steady at ca. 1.6-1.8 mg L-1. A significant relationship between the historical DIN record at the downstream gauging station (Datong) and nitrogen (N) sources in the Yangtze River basin is established using principal components analysis. This allows us to apportion DIN loads for the year 2007 (the most recent year of measured DIN data available) to various N sources, listed here in order of weight: sewage (0391 million tons); atmosphere (0358 million tons); manure (0318 million tons), N-fertilizer (0271 million tons). Therefore, we estimated that a DIN load of 1339 x 10(6) t was delivered to the lower Yangtze and its estuarine water in that year. We established scenarios to predict DIN concentrations in the lower Yangtze at 10 year intervals to 2050. For a dry year (20,000 m(3) s(-1)) DIN concentrations would range from 22-3.0 mg L-1 for 2020-2050. This far exceeds the 2.0 mg L-1 defined on the Chinese National Scale as the worst class for potable source water. The scenario results suggest that upgrading the sewage treatment systems throughout the basin will be an effective way to help reduce DIN concentrations to less than 2.0 mg L-1 in the lower Yangtze. This would save the Shanghai megacity from the increasing threat of heavily polluted water sources, where >23 million people are at present dependent on the Yangtze estuary for 70% of their freshwater intake. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.