Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Xu, R., Tian, H., Pan, N., Thompson, R. L., Canadell, J. G., Davidson, E. A., Dangal, S.R.S., et al. (2021). Magnitude and uncertainty of nitrous oxide emissions from North America based on bottom-up and top-down approaches: Informing future research and national inventories. Geophysical Research Letters, 48, e2021GL095264.



© 2021. American Geophysical Union. Used by permission.


We synthesized N2O emissions over North America using 17 bottom-up (BU) estimates from 1980– 2016 and five top-down (TD) estimates from 1998 to 2016. The BU-based total emission shows a slight increase owing to U.S. agriculture, while no consistent trend is shown in TD estimates. During 2007–2016, North American N2O emissions are estimated at 1.7 (1.0–3.0) Tg N yr−1 (BU) and 1.3 (0.9–1.5) Tg N yr−1 (TD). Anthropogenic emissions were twice as large as natural fluxes from soil and water. Direct agricultural and industrial activities accounted for 68% of total anthropogenic emissions, 71% of which was contributed by the U.S. Our estimates of U.S. agricultural emissions are comparable to the EPA greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory, which includes estimates from IPCC tier 1 (emission factor) and tier 3 (process-based modeling) approaches. Conversely, our estimated agricultural emissions for Canada and Mexico are twice as large as the respective national GHG inventories.

Plain Language Summary Nitrous oxide (N2O) is the third most important greenhouse gase (GHG) after CO2 and CH4 causing global warming. Among world regions, North America (defined herein as U.S., Canada, and Mexico) is the second largest source of N2O emissions globally, and previous source estimates for this region vary widely. This study aims to provide a comprehensive N2O assessment over North America including all available estimates based on a number of approaches. We report total emissions, and emissions from four anthropogenic source sectors, over the past four decades. Agriculture and industry are two major N2O sources in North America. Our results show a minor increase in the total N2O emission due to agricultural trends in the U.S. Our bottom-up estimate of U.S. agSricultural N2O emissions are close to those in the EPA national GHG inventory that includes both empirical and model results. The high consistency suggests the need to take process-based modeling results into account for future national GHG inventories.