2018 Martin Award Recipients

Received by Robert Howarth (Cornell University) on behalf of co-authors

The Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography presents the John H. Martin Award to one paper each year that has led to fundamental shifts in research focus and interpretation of a large body of previous observations. The 2018 John H. Martin Award is for “Regional nitrogen budgets and riverine N & P fluxes for the drainages to the North Atlantic Ocean: Natural and human influences.” The 1996 paper established the first estimates of net anthropogenic nitrogen inputs to the coastal oceans thereby fundamentally changing our understanding of the relationship between human activity and nitrogen transport and storage. The award will be presented in June 2018 at the ASLO Summer Meeting in Victoria, British Columbia to lead author Robert Howarth on behalf of study co-authors Gilles Billen, Dennis Swaney, Alan Townsend, Norbert Jaworsky, Kate Lajtha, John Downing, Ragnar Elmgren, Nina Caraco, Thomas Jordan, Frank Berendse, John Freney, Valery Kudeyarov, Peter Murdoch, and Zhu Zhao-Liang. The paper was one of several published in a special issue of Biogeochemistry, based on a workshop held in 1993 by the International SCOPE Nitrogen Project.

Prior to Howarth et. al, an understanding of the transport of nitrogen between atmospheric, terrestrial, and aquatic systems on broad, regional scales was lacking. Smaller datasets of catchment-size systems generated in the 1980’s and 1990’s suggested a relationship between human activity and nitrogen nutrient levels in rivers, but Howarth et al. were the first to quantify the relationship between anthropogenic inputs and export of total nitrogen to the coastal oceans. The paper’s approach to developing the first large-scale nitrogen budgets for rivers based on a diverse set of data on the natural and human-derived sources of nitrogen led to the finding that total riverine nitrogen fluxes are strongly and positively related to net anthropogenic inputs to catchments, regardless of the particular source of the nitrogen, a fact that is taken for granted as common knowledge today. 

A key component of the paper was the development of a novel model of Net Anthropogenic Nitrogen Inputs (NANI). NANI has proven to be one of the most accurate approaches to calculating watershed nitrogen budgets in terms of bias and error, even when compared to more complex mechanistic and statistical models developed later on.

The paper has had lasting impact on the broader biogeochemical community, with a total of more than 1,700 citations and maintaining over 50 citations per year since the early 2000’s, including citations in several prominent papers. “The identification of fertilizer and atmospheric deposition as two of the largest components of anthropogenic nitrogen in rivers, in addition to the quantification of the rates of increases in human sources of riverine nitrogen associated with regional industrialization, were key findings that drove future research directions in nitrogen biogeochemical cycling. We are delighted to present the John H. Martin award to such a landmark study that has clearly had a long-lasting relevance,” said ASLO President Linda Duguay. 

Citation: Howarth, R.W., Billen, G., Swaney, D. et al. Biogeochemistry (1996) 35: 75.