Enabling comprehensive assessment of marine eutrophication impacts and their evaluation against regional safe operating space

Eldbjørg Blikra Vea*, Mark Jwaideh, Katherine Richardson, Morten Ryberg, Anders Bjørn, Michael Hauschild

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Purpose: Nitrogen emissions from human activities are contributing to elevated levels of eutrophication in coastal ecosystems. Mechanisms involved in marine eutrophication show strong geographical variation. Existing life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) and absolute environmental sustainability assessment (AESA) methods for marine eutrophication do not adequately represent this variability, do not have a full global coverage, and suffer from other limitations, such as poor estimation of coastal residence times. This study aims to advance LCIA and AESA for marine eutrophication.
Methods: We aligned and combined recent advancements in marine eutrophication LCIA and AESA methods into one method. By re-running models underlying the combined methods and incorporating additional data sources, we included marine regions missing in previous methods and improved fate modeling, with the inclusion of denitrification and plant uptake in the air emission-terrestrial deposition pathway. To demonstrate and validate our method, we applied it in a case study.
Results: The developed method allows the assessment of marine eutrophication impacts from emissions to soil, freshwater, and air at high resolution (0.083° and 2° × 2.5° for inland and air emissions, respectively) and spatial coverage (all ice-free global continents). In the case study, we demonstrate the added value of our method by showing that the now quantified spatial variability within spatial units, e.g., river basins, can be large and have a strong influence on the modeled marine eutrophication from the case study. Compared to existing methods, our method identifies larger occupations of safe operating space for marine eutrophication, mainly due to the high resolution of the coastal compartment, reflecting a more realistic areal extent of marine eutrophication impacts.
Conclusions: Although limited by factors such as simulations based on a single reference year for modeling inland and air fate, our method is readily applicable to assess the marine eutrophication impact of nitrogen emitted to any environmental compartment and relate it to the safe operating space. With substantial advancement of existing approaches, our method improves the basis for decision-making for managing nitrogen and reducing emissions to levels within the safe operating space.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Marine eutrophication
  • Absolute sustainability
  • Nitrogen emission
  • Planetary boundaries
  • Life cycle impact assessment
  • Life cyle assessment


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