During recent years, rapid seasonal growth of macroalgae covered extensive areas within the Yellow Sea, developing the world's most spatially extensive "green tide". The remarkably fast accumulation of macroalgal biomass is the joint result of high nitrogen supplies in Yellow Sea waters, plus ability of the macroalgae to optionally use C4 photosynthetic pathways that facilitate rapid growth. Stable isotopic evidence shows that the high nitrogen supply is derived from anthropogenic sources, conveyed from watersheds via river discharges, and by direct atmospheric deposition. Wastewater and manures supply about half the nitrogen used by the macroalgae, fertiliser and atmospheric deposition each furnish about a quarter of the nitrogen in macroalgae. The massive green tides affecting the Yellow Sea are likely to increase, with significant current and future environmental and human consequences. Addressing these changing trajectories will demand concerted investment in new basic and applied research as the basis for developing management policies.