09 Oct 2023
 | 09 Oct 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ESSD.

Global Nitrous Oxide Budget 1980–2020

Hanqin Tian, Naiqing Pan, Rona L. Thompson, Josep G. Canadell, Parvadha Suntharalingam, Pierre Regnier, Eric A. Davidson, Michael Prather, Philippe Ciais, Marilena Muntean, Shufen Pan, Wilfried Winiwarter, Sönke Zaehle, Feng Zhou, Robert B. Jackson, Hermann W. Bange, Sarah Berthet, Zihao Bian, Daniele Bianchi, Alexander F. Bouwman, Erik T. Buitenhuis, Geoffrey Dutton, Minpeng Hu, Akihiko Ito, Atul K. Jain, Aurich Jeltsch-Thömmes, Fortunat Joos, Sian Kou-Giesbrecht, Paul B. Krummel, Xin Lan, Angela Landolfi, Ronny Lauerwald, Ya Li, Chaoqun Lu, Taylor Maavara, Manfredi Manizza, Dylan B. Millet, Jens Mühle, Prabir K. Patra, Glen P. Peters, Xiaoyu Qin, Peter Raymond, Laure Resplandy, Judith A. Rosentreter, Hao Shi, Qing Sun, Daniele Tonina, Francesco N. Tubiello, Guido R. van der Werf, Nicolas Vuichard, Junjie Wang, Kelley C. Wells, Luke M. Western, Chris Wilson, Jia Yang, Yuanzhi Yao, Yongfa You, and Qing Zhu

Abstract. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a long-lived potent greenhouse gas and stratospheric ozone-depleting substance, which has been accumulating in the atmosphere since the pre-industrial period. The mole fraction of atmospheric N2O has increased by nearly 25 % from 270 parts per billion (ppb) in 1750 to 336 ppb in 2022, with the fastest annual growth rate since 1980 of more than 1.3 ppb yr-1 in both 2020 and 2021. As a core component of our global greenhouse gas assessments coordinated by the Global Carbon Project (GCP), we present a global N2O budget that incorporates both natural and anthropogenic sources and sinks, and accounts for the interactions between nitrogen additions and the biochemical processes that control N2O emissions. We use Bottom-Up (BU: inventory, statistical extrapolation of flux measurements, process-based land and ocean modelling) and Top-Down (TD: atmospheric measurement-based inversion) approaches.  We provide a comprehensive quantification of global N2O sources and sinks in 21 natural and anthropogenic categories in 18 regions between 1980 and 2020. We estimate that total annual anthropogenic N2O emissions increased 40 % (or 1.9 Tg N yr-1) in the past four decades (1980–2020). Direct agricultural emissions in 2020, 3.9 Tg N yr−1 (best estimate) represent the large majority of anthropogenic emissions, followed by other direct anthropogenic sources (including ‘Fossil fuel and industry’, ‘Waste and wastewater’, and ‘Biomass burning’ (2.1 Tg N yr−1), and indirect anthropogenic sources (1.3 Tg N yr−1). For the year 2020, our best estimate of total BU emissions for natural and anthropogenic sources was 18.3 (lower-upper bounds: 10.5–27.0) Tg N yr-1, close to our TD estimate of 17.0 (16.6–17.4) Tg N yr-1. For the period 2010–2019, the annual BU decadal-average emissions for natural plus anthropogenic sources were 18.1 (10.4–25.9) Tg N yr-1 and TD emissions were 17.4 (15.8–19.20 Tg N yr-1. The once top emitter Europe has reduced its emissions since the 1980s by 31 % while those of emerging economies have grown, making China the top emitter since the 2010s. The observed atmospheric N2O concentrations in recent years have exceeded projected levels under all scenarios in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6), underscoring the urgency to reduce anthropogenic N2O emissions. To evaluate mitigation efforts and contribute to the Global Stocktake of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, we propose establishing a global network for monitoring and modeling N2O from the surface through the stratosphere. The data presented in this work can be downloaded from (Tian et al. 2023).

Hanqin Tian et al.

Status: open (until 23 Dec 2023)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • CC1: 'Comment on essd-2023-401, Figure 1', Leon Simons, 11 Oct 2023 reply
  • RC1: 'Comment on essd-2023-401', Stephen Del Grosso, 24 Nov 2023 reply

Hanqin Tian et al.

Data sets

Data supplement to: Tian et al, 2023. Global N2O Budget 1980-2020. ESSD Hanqin Tian et al.

Hanqin Tian et al.


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Short summary
The atmospheric concentrations of nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas 265 times more potent than carbon dioxide, has increased by 25 % since the pre-industrial period, with the highest observed growth rate in both 2020 and 2021. This rapid growth rate was primarily due to a 40 % increase in anthropogenic emissions since 1980. The observed atmospheric N2O concentrations in recent years have exceeded the worst-case climate scenario, underscoring the urgency to reduce anthropogenic N2O emissions.