Inorganic nitrogen loading was simulated using two dynamic catchment scale models, Integrated Nutrients in Catchments–Nitrogen (INCA-N) and the Generalized Watershed Loading Functions (GWLF). The simulated N loading was compared to a standard method to calculate annual loading using measured discharge and discharge-weighted concentrations. The main aim of the study was to compare these three estimation approaches with regards to their performance in hydrologically variable years in a small headwater catchment in southern Finland. Inter-annual variability of INCA-N and GWLF was compared with measured inorganic N concentrations at the catchment outlet. In years where snow melt dominates the annual discharge pattern all methods gave concurrent annual loading estimates. However, the loading estimates differ between the studied methods in years where large rainfall events in late summer or autumn dominate the annual discharge pattern, or when the model was not able to reproduce the spring discharge maximum properly. The results suggest that both models can be useful tools in estimating dissolved inorganic nitrogen loading from a catchment under changing climate conditions, providing that the key influencing driver, hydrology, is well captured.

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