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Last update: 03/2022

Human activities have altered the natural nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, increasing the amount of nutrients losses to air, water and soil, with detrimental impacts for human health, ecosystem functioning and biodiversity. In 2011 the first European Nitrogen Assessment (ENA) gathered scientific evidence on the alteration of the nitrogen cycle in Europe and its consequences on air and water quality, terrestrial biodiversity and climate, drawing attention on possible actions to curb and reduce nitrogen pollution acting at different points of the cycle. ENA paved the way for an integrated nutrient management action. Knowledge on the nutrient fluxes originated from different sources and flowing into different environmental compartments is key for understanding the level of disruption of the natural Nitrogen and Phosphorus cycles and for planning measures to reduce nutrient pollution while preserving soil fertility.

Aerial view of tractor fertilising field
Field fertilization - ©Riko Best -

Nitrogen and Phosphorus cycles in EU27

Major fluxes in the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles around year 2015 are estimated for EU27, based on recent data from different sources, including both reported data and model results (Table 2.1 of the report).

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Nitrogen fluxes in 2015 by country

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Phosphorus fluxes in 2015 by country

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Data Source Data type Format of data Unit of measure Reference year Spatial coverage Ref Sys (EPSG) Description / Source / Citation
EDGAR database Map of N2O emissions netcdf, 0.1 x 0.1 deg kg/sqm/s 2015 global 4326 The Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) is an independent global emission inventory of greenhouse gases (GHG) and air pollutants developed by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission. The non-CO2 components in EDGARv5.0 cover a long time series of emissions for the period 1970-2015; emissions are estimated for all anthropogenic emission sectors with the exception of Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) at country and annual level in a consistent and comparable way for all world countries. Regarding Nitrogen, EDGAR provides N2O, NOx and NH3 emissions (unit: kt).

Crippa, M., Oreggioni, G., Guizzardi, D., Muntean, M., Schaaf, E., Lo Vullo, E., Solazzo, E., Monforti-Ferrario, F., Olivier, J. and Vignati, E., Fossil CO2 and GHG emissions of all world countries, EUR 29849 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2019, ISBN 978-92-76-11100-9 (online),978-92-76-11025-5 (print), doi:10.2760/687800
Map of NOx emissions
Map of NH3 emissions
IPCC2006 total N2O, NOx, NH3 emissions by sector and Country table Gg 2015 EU28 (by country)
EMEP Model Total N deposition netcdf, 0.1 x 0.1 deg mg/sqm/y 2015 Physical Europe 4326 The co-operative programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long-range transmission of air pollutants in Europe (unofficially 'European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme' = EMEP) is a scientifically based and policy driven programme under the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) for international co-operation to solve transboundary air pollution problems. Inside this programme, the ‘EMEP open-source' model has been developed, to simulate air quality and deposition due to emission reduction policies. The EMEP model, for this project, has been run at the Joint Research Centre.
DayCent Model - Sinthetic and organic fertilization
- biological N fixation (plant+soil)
- N deposition (from EMEP)
- N export from grain
- N export from above ground biomass
- N in NO3 leaching
- N in DOC (organic N leaching)
- N2O
- NO
- N2
- N loss by erosion
tiff (Raster dataset with 12 bands), 1000 x 1000 m kg/ha/y Average value 2010-2019 Physical Europe 3035 JRC-D.3 full N budget in agricultural soils by DayCent model

Quemada, M., Lassaletta, L., Leip, A., Jones, A., and Lugato, E. Integrated management for sustainable cropping systems: Looking beyond the greenhouse balance at the field scale. Global Change Biology, 2020a, 14989

Lugato, E., Leip, A., and Jones, A. Mitigation potential of soil carbon management overestimated by neglecting N2O emissions. Nature Clim Change, 8, 2018a, 219–223

Lugato, E., Paniagua, L., Jones, A., de Vries, W., and Leip, A., Complementing the topsoil information of the Land Use/Land Cover Area Frame Survey (LUCAS) with modelled N2O emissions. PLoS ONE, 12, 2017, e0176111
Domestic emissions to water TN and TP Vector data, catchment level t/y 2016 Physical Europe 3035 N and P domestic waste emissions to waters (tN/y; tP/y) from UWWTP, Sewage discharges, Individual Appropriate Systems (IAS), scattered dwellings

Vigiak, O., Grizzetti, B., Zanni, M., Aloe, A., Dorati, C., Bouraoui, F., Pistocchi, A., 2020. Domestic waste emissions to European waters in the 2010s. Sci. Data 7. (updated to 2016 data)
GREEN Model TN and TP diffuse emissions kg/ha 2014-2018 Grizzetti, B., Vigiak, O., Udias, A., Aloe, A., Zanni, M., Bouraoui, F., Pistocchi, A., Dorati, C., Friedland, R., De Roo, A., Benitez Sanz, C., Leip, A., and Bielza, M., How EU policies could reduce nutrient pollution in European inland and coastal waters, Global Environmental Change, 69, 2021, 102281

TN and TP loads to the seas t/y
Global P losses due to soil erosion tiff, 0.5 x 0.5 deg kg/ha/y 2015 Global 4326 Alewell, C., Ringeval, B., Ballabio, C., Robinson, D.A., Panagos, P., Borrelli, P. 2020. Global phosphorus shortage will be aggravated by soil erosion. Nat Commun 11, 4546
Mean phosphorus stock (LUCAS points) tiff, 500 x 500m mg/kg and kg/ha 2009 EU28 3035 Ballabio, C., Lugato, E., Fernández-Ugalde, O., Orgiazzi, A., Jones, A., Borrelli, P., Montanarella, L. and Panagos, P., 2019. Mapping LUCAS topsoil chemical properties at European scale using Gaussian process regression. Geoderma, 355: 113912
Phosphorus Plant removal NUTS2 kg/ha 2016 EU28 3035 Panagos, P., Muntwyler, A., Liakos, L., Borrelli, P., Biavetti, I., Bogonos, M. and Lugato, E., 2022. Phosphorus plant removal from European agricultural land. Journal of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, DOI: 10.1007/s00003-022-01363-
CAPRI Model - N and P Mineral fertiliser
- Manure applied to soil
- N Crop fixation
- Crop uptake
- Surplus
kg/ha 2014 EU27 Barreiro-Hurle, J., Bogonos, M., Himics, M., Hristov, J., Pérez-Domiguez, I., Sahoo, A., Salputra, G., Weiss, F., Baldoni, E., Elleby, C. Modelling environmental and climate ambition in the agricultural sector with the CAPRI model. Exploring the potential effects of selected Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies targets in the framework of the 2030 Climate targets and the post 2020 Common Agricultural Policy, EUR 30317 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2021, ISBN 978-92-76-20889-1, doi:10.2760/98160, JRC121368
Nutrients (N, P) in sewage sludge applied to land table kg/ha EU27 Based on EUROSTAT statistics (sludge volumes, aggregated at MS level), spatial locations of waste water treatment plants and estimates of nutrient contents in sewage sludge, we will be estimating sewage sludge applications to agricultural land at a small spatial scale (to be defined, but likely around 5 x 5 km) (work done in cooperation with Alberto Pistocchi, and D.3) (units: kg N/P ha-1 yr-1)
Food waste N and P amounts in food waste at processing, distribution, household, food services, wastewater collection, treatment and waste management table ktN/y and ktP/y 2015 EU27 Corrado S., Caldeira C., Carmona-Garcia G., Körner I., Leip A., Sala S.. Unveiling the potential for an efficient use of nitrogen along the food supply and consumption chain. Global Food Security 25, 100368

Caldeira, C., De Laurentiis, V., Ghoose, A., Corrado, S., Sala, S. 2021. Grown and thrown: Exploring approaches to estimate food waste in EU countries. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 168, p. 105426

De Laurentiis, V., Caldeira, C., Sala, S., Building a balancing system for food waste accounting at National Level, EUR 30685 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2021, ISBN 978-92-76-37275-2, doi:10.2760/316306, JRC124446

Nutrient losses to air, soil and water, per regions and sources

Information on nitrogen and phosphorus losses to the environment at different spatial levels (i.e. country, region, river basin or catchment) show regional impacts and can support several planning levels.

Knowledge on the size of nutrient flows and on the contributions of different sources can support the development of integrated nutrient management plans at the regional and national level.