Sediment denitrification is a major pathway of fixed nitrogen loss from aquatic systems. Due to technical difficulties in measuring this process and its spatial and temporal variability, estimates of local, regional and global denitrification have to rely on a combination of measurements and models. Here we review approaches to describing denitrification in aquatic sediments, ranging from mechanistic diagenetic models to empirical parameterizations of nitrogen fluxes across the sediment-water interface. We also present a compilation of denitrification measurements and ancillary data for different aquatic systems, ranging from freshwater to marine. Based on this data compilation we reevaluate published parameterizations of denitrification. We recommend that future models of denitrification use (1) a combination of mechanistic diagenetic models and measurements where bottom-waters are temporally hypoxic or anoxic, and (2) the much simpler correlations between denitrification and sediment oxygen consumption for oxic bottom waters. For our data set, inclusion of bottom water oxygen and nitrate concentrations in a multivariate regression did not improve the statistical fit.