Impact of climate change on catchment nutrient dynamics: insights from around the world

Diogo Da Costa, Caleb Sutter, Anita Shepherd, Helen Jarvie, Henry Wilson, Jane Elliot, Jian Liu, Merrin Macrae

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study is a meta-analysis of global articles on hydrological nutrient dynamics to determine trends and consensus on:
(1) the effects of climate change-induced hydrological and temperature drivers on nutrient dynamics and how these effects
vary along the catchment continuum from land to river to lake; (2) the convergence of climate change impacts with other
anthropogenic pressures (agriculture, urbanization) in nutrient dynamics; and (3) regional variability in the effects of climate
change on nutrient dynamics and water-quality impairment across different climate zones. An innovative web crawler tool
was employed to help critically synthesize the information in the literature. The literature suggests that climate change will
impact nutrient dynamics around the globe and exacerbate contemporary water-quality challenges. Nutrient leaching and
overland flow transport are projected to increase globally, promoted by extreme precipitation. Seasonal variations in streamflow
are expected to emulate changing precipitation patterns, but the specific local impacts of climate change on hydrology
and nutrient dynamics will vary both seasonally and regionally. Plant activity may reduce some of this load in nonagricultural
soils if the expected increase in plant uptake of nutrients prompted by increased temperatures can compensate for greater
nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) mineralization, N deposition, and leaching rates. High-temperature forest and grass fires may
help reduce mineralization and microbial turnover by altering N speciation via the pyrolysis of organic matter. In agricultural
areas that are at higher risk of erosion, extreme precipitation will exacerbate existing water-quality issues, and greater plant
nutrient uptake may lead to an increase in fertilizer use. Future urban expansion will amplify these effects. Higher ambient
temperatures will promote harmful cyanobacterial blooms by enhancing thermal stratification, increasing nutrient load
into streams and lakes from extreme precipitation events, decreasing summer flow and thus baseflow dilution capacity, and
increasing water and nutrient residence times during increasingly frequent droughts. Land management decisions must consider
the nuanced regional and seasonal changes identified in this review (realized and predicted). Such knowledge is critical
to increasing international cooperation and accelerating action toward the United Nations’s global sustainability goals and
the specific objectives of the Conference of Parties (COP) 26.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalEnvironmental Reviews
Early online date8 Sep 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • nutrients
  • nutrient pollution
  • hydrology
  • global analysis
  • climate change
  • review


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