Nitrogen input to the Gulf of Mexico

J Environ Qual. 2001 Mar-Apr;30(2):329-36. doi: 10.2134/jeq2001.302329x.


Historical streamflow and concentration data were used in regression models to estimate the annual flux of nitrogen (N) to the Gulf of Mexico and to determine where the nitrogen originates within the Mississippi Basin. Results show that for 1980-1996 the mean annual total N flux to the Gulf of Mexico was 1,568,000 t yr-1. The flux was about 61% nitrate N, 37% organic N, and 2% ammonium N. The flux of nitrate N to the Gulf has approximately tripled in the last 30 years with most of the increase occurring between 1970 and 1983. The mean annual N flux has changed little since the early 1980s, but large year-to-year variations in N flux occur because of variations in precipitation. During wet years the N flux can increase by 50% or more due to flushing of nitrate N that has accumulated in the soils and unsaturated zones in the basin. The principal source areas of N are basins in southern Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio that drain agricultural land. Basins in this region yield 1500 to more than 3100 kg N km-2 yr-1 to streams, several times the N yield of basins outside this region.

MeSH terms

  • Eutrophication*
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Nitrogen / metabolism*
  • Rain
  • Regression Analysis
  • United States
  • Water Movements
  • Water Pollution / analysis*


  • Nitrogen