India's Riverine Nitrogen Runoff Strongly Impacted by Monsoon Variability

Eva Sinha, Anna M. Michalak, Venkatramani Balaji, Laure Resplandy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Agricultural intensification in India has increased nitrogen pollution, leading to water quality impairments. The fate of reactive nitrogen applied to the land is largely unknown, however. Long-term records of riverine nitrogen fluxes are nonexistent and drivers of variability remain unexamined, limiting the development of nitrogen management strategies. Here, we leverage dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and discharge data to characterize the seasonal, annual, and regional variability of DIN fluxes and their drivers for seven major river basins from 1981 to 2014. We find large seasonal and interannual variability in nitrogen runoff, with 68% to 94% of DIN fluxes occurring in June through October and with the coefficient of variation across years ranging from 44% to 93% for individual basins. This variability is primarily explained by variability in precipitation, with year- and basin-specific annual precipitation explaining 52% of the combined regional and interannual variability. We find little correlation with rising fertilizer application rates in five of the seven basins, implying that agricultural intensification has thus far primarily impacted groundwater and atmospheric emissions rather than riverine runoff. These findings suggest that riverine nitrogen runoff in India is highly sensitive to projected future increases in precipitation and intensification of the seasonal monsoon, while the impact of projected continued land use intensification is highly uncertain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11335-11342
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 16 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


  • Indian monsoon
  • agricultural intensification
  • climate variability
  • dissolved inorganic nitrogen loading


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