The International Nitrogen Initiative

A Joint SCOPE and IGBP Program



Nitrogen is essential to the survival of all life forms yet the natural abundance of useable nitrogen is so low that massive human alteration of the nitrogen cycle has been required to sustain the feeding of the world's population. The alteration has been made even greater by the release of nitrogen oxides to the atmosphere during fossil fuel combustion.  These changes in the nitrogen cycle have exacerbated a number of environmental issues, including smog, acid deposition, climate change, coastal eutrophication and stratospheric ozone depletion, all of which have impacts on people and ecosystems on a regional or global basis.


Role of SCOPE

Delwiche (1970) voiced initial concern about global scale alteration of the N cycle.  Over the intervening three decades since his seminal work, there have been steady advances in our understanding of the natural and anthropogenic components of the N cycle.  SCOPE has played an important role in these advances. In 1978 the SCOPE/UNEP International Nitrogen Unit was established which lead to the first assessment of existing knowledge (Clark and Rosswall, 1981). 


SCOPE products

International SCOPE project on Nitrogen Transport and Transformations (1994-2002) designed to analyze nitrogen flows at the scale of large regions. 
Several major reports were produced, the most recent being Boyer and Howarth (2002)


Major International Conferences


INI Structure and Strategy

INI will be organized on a regional basis with an overall umbrella body (Scientific Advisory Committee) to provide coordination.  Regional Centers will be established for North America, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and Africa (e.g., INI-Asia).  The activities for a given Center will depend upon the 'maturity' of nitrogen science and policy for that region. Each Regional Center will use a tri-phased approach to work towards the overall goal of the INI

·        Phase III: Implementation of scientific, engineering and policy tools to solve problems.



Phase I:

Phase II:

·        To propose region-specific solutions towards problems identified in Phase I.

Phase III:

·        To direct activities primarily towards working with critical groups to implement identified solutions.


Project Management

The INI Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) is responsible for overall coordination and conduct of the program and relies on the Consultants for advice or action on specific topics to broaden the base of the program and appointed as needed in the future.

SAC Tasks:

·        Establish Regional Centers that are responsible for applying the three-phased approach to specific regions. 

·        Develop an integrated database on nitrogen, useable by a wide variety of interested groups (e.g., scientists, industry representatives, and policy makers), and promote both research and education on nitrogen-related issues. 

·        Form a Steering Committee; at least one member of the INI Scientific Advisory Committee associated with each Center to assure coordination between the Regional Center and the overall INI.

·        Identify the constituencies within each region on N cycle alternations that should be involved in Phase III.

Related Projects:

·        SCOPE project on Environmental Consequences of Animal Production. 


INI Partners focused on nitrogen

Groups to join SCOPE and IGBP as INI Sponsors: the Dutch government, UNEP, Ecological Society of America and the International Fertilizer Industry Association. 


Initial Milestones

These milestones include coordination meetings, the establishment of the initial Regional Centers, one of which will focus on Asia and conferences.  During the course of the program, we will ask other organizations to become sponsors to involve additional sectors that have an interest in the overall INI goal and to also provide a broader foundation for funding.


December 2002                       Obtain SCOPE and IGBP support for INI

January 2003                            Formulate SAC membership

January 2003                            Submit ICSU proposal

February 2003                         Announcement of INI at AAAS Symposium, Denver USA

March 2003                             Brazil N workshop; discuss INI-Latin America

May/June 2003                        Scientific Advisory Committee meeting

Fall 2003                                  Establish INI-Asia; begin Phase I

April 2004                                Denitrification (N2EX) Workshop

October 2004                          3rd International Nitrogen Conference, China





Boyer, EB and RH Howarth, (eds). 2002. The Nitrogen Cycles at Regional to Global Scales.  Kluwer Academic Publishers

Clark, FE and T Rosswall, (eds). 1981. Terrestrial Nitrogen Cycles.  Processes, Ecosystems Strategies and Management Impact.  Ecol.  Bull.  (Stockholm) 33.

Delwiche CC. 1970. The nitrogen cycle. Scientific American  223: 137-146

Galloway JN, EB Cowling, and E Kessler (eds). 2002.  Optimizing Nitrogen Management in Food and Energy Productions, and Environmental Change. Ambio (Special Issue) 31 (2).

Van der Hoek KW, JW Erisman, S Smeulders, JR Wisniewski and J Wisniewski (eds). 1998. Proceedings of the First International Nitrogen Conference. Elsevier Science.