We have determined the nitrogen mass balance for the Mobile–Alabama River System (MARS) for two years of different hydrologic regimes (i.e. low flow vs. high flow). The maximum riverine export of N from the watershed is only 7%, suggesting relatively high retention and/or losses of N by denitrification within the watershed. Previous investigations of other watersheds within the USA demonstrate export percentages of c. 20–25%. Our calculations indicate that during a high flow year such as 1990, c. 13% of the new N introduced to the watershed annually is lost within the riverine system either through diatom uptake or denitrification. Another 4% is lost to the groundwater while 25–38% is sequestered by the terrestrial biomass (i.e. crop production and forest growth). Thus, as much as 51% of the N input to the landscape in the MARS is unaccounted for. We believe the location of this ‘missing’ N is probably within the soil, or the N has been lost through denitrification within the terrestrial ecosystem. The relatively low N yield from the MARS suggests that the watershed is not as saturated with respect to N as are many other U.S. drainages.