combustion and from animal feedlots and other agricultural sources, and is both deposited directly into estuaries and also deposited initially onto the land surface and then carried into estuaries by runoff.
Human activity has an enormous influence on the global cycling of nutrients, especially on the movement of nutrients to estuaries and other coastal waters. For phosphorus, global fluxes are dominated by the essentially one-way flow of phosphorus carried in eroded materials and wastewater from the land to the oceans, where it is ultimately buried in ocean sediments (Hedley and Sharpley 1998). The size of this flux is currently estimated at 22 Tg P yr−1 (Howarth et al. 1995). Prior to increased human agricultural and industrial activity, the flow is estimated to have been around 8 Tg P yr−1 (Howarth et al. 1995). Thus, current human activities cause an extra 14 Tg of phosphorus to flow into the ocean sediment sink each year, or approximately the same as the amount of phosphorus fertilizer (16 Tg P) applied to agricultural land each year.
The effect of human activity on the global cycling of nitrogen is equally immense, and furthermore, the rate of change in the pattern of use is much greater (Galloway et al. 1995). The single largest global change in the nitrogen cycle comes from increased reliance on synthetic inorganic fertilizers, which accounts for more than half of the human alteration of the nitrogen cycle (Vitousek et al. 1997). The process for making inorganic nitrogen fertilizer was invented during World War I, but was not widely used until the 1950s. The rate of use increased steadily until the late 1980s, when the collapse of the former Soviet Union led to great disruptions in agriculture and fertilizer use in Russia and much of eastern Europe. These disruptions resulted in a slight decline in global nitrogen fertilizer use for a few years (Matson et al. 1997). By 1995, the global use of inorganic nitrogen fertilizer was again growing rapidly, with much of the growth driven by increased use in China (Figure 5-1). Use as of 1996 was approximately 83 Tg N yr−1. Approximately half of the inorganic nitrogen fertilizer that was ever used on Earth has been applied during the last 15 years.
Production of nitrogen fertilizer is the largest process whereby human activity mobilizes nitrogen globally (Box 5-1). However, other human-controlled processes, such as combustion of fossil fuels and production of nitrogen-fixing crops in agriculture, convert atmospheric nitrogen into biologically available forms of nitrogen. Overall, human fixation of nitrogen (including production of fertilizer, combustion of fossil fuel, and production of nitrogen-fixing agricultural crops) increased globally some two- to three-fold between 1960 to 1990 and continues to grow (Galloway et al. 1995). By the mid 1990s, human activities made new nitrogen avail-