Field scale nitrogen load in surface runoff: Impacts of management practices and changing climate

Congyu Hou, Maria L. Chu, Jorge A. Guzman, Juan S. Acero Triana, Daniel N. Moriasi, Jean L. Steiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The use of Nitrogen (N) fertilizer boosted crop production to accommodate 7 billion people on Earth in the 20th century but with the consequence of exacerbating N losses from agricultural landscapes. Land management practices that can prevent high N load are constantly being sought for mitigation and conservation purposes. This study was aimed at evaluating the impacts of different land management practices under projected climate scenarios on surface runoff linked N load at the field scale level. A framework to analyze changes in N load at a high spatiotemporal resolution under high greenhouse emission climate projections was developed using the Pesticide Root Zone Model (PRZM) for the Willow Creek Watershed in the Fort Cobb Experimental Watershed in Oklahoma. Specifically, 12 combinations of land management and climate scenarios were evaluated based on their N load via surface runoff from 2020 to 2070. Results showed that crop rotation practices lowered both the N load and the probability of high N load events. Spring application reduced the negative effects in summer and fall from other land management practices but at the risk of increased probability of generating high N load in April and May. The fertilizer application rate was found to be the most critical factor that affected the amount and the probability of high N load events. By adopting a target application management approach, the monthly maximum N can be decreased by 13% while the annual mean N load by 6%. The model framework and analysis method developed in this research can be used to analyze tradeoffs between environmental welfare and economic benefits of N fertilizer at the field scale level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109327
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


  • Crop rotation
  • Fertilizer application rate
  • Future climate projections
  • Land management practices
  • N load
  • PRZM model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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