The most important fertilizer for producing food is, at the same time, one of the most important risks for human health: nitrogen.
Chemical compounds containing reactive nitrogen are major drivers of air and water pollution worldwide, and hence of diseases like asthma or cancer.
If no action is taken, nitrogen pollution could rise by 20 percent by 2050 in a middle-of-the-road scenario, according to a study now published by scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Ambitious mitigation efforts, however, could decrease the pollution by 50 percent. The analysis is the very first to quantify this.
“Nitrogen is an irreplaceable nutrient and a true life-saver as it helps agriculture to feed a growing world population – but it is unfortunately also a dangerous pollutant,” says Benjamin Bodirsky, lead-author of the study.
In the different forms it can take through chemical reactions, it massively contributes to respirable dust, leads to the formation of aggressive ground-level ozone, and destabilizes water ecosystems. Damages in Europe alone have been estimated at around 1-4 percent of economic output, worth billions of Euro.
About half of these nitrogen pollution damages are from agriculture. This is why the scientists ran extensive computer simulations to explore the effects of different mitigation measures.
***Both farmers and consumers would have to participate in mitigation***
“It became clear that without mitigation the global situation may markedly deteriorate as the global food demand grows,” says Bodirsky, who is also affiliated to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Colombia (CIAT). “A package of mitigation actions can reverse this trend, yet the risk remains that nitrogen pollution still exceeds safe environmental thresholds.”
Only combined mitigation efforts both in food production and consumption could substantially reduce the risks, the study shows. Currently, every second ton of nitrogen put on the fields is not taken up by the crops but blown away by the wind, washed out by rain or decomposed by microorganisms.
To reduce losses and prevent pollution, farmers can more carefully target fertilizer application to plants’ needs, using soil measurements. Moreover, they should aim at efficiently recycling animal dung to fertilize the plants. “Mitigation costs are currently many times lower than damage costs,” says co-author Alexander Popp.
“For consumers in developed countries, halving food waste, meat consumption and related feed use would not only benefit their health and their wallet,” Popp adds. “Both changes would also increase the overall resource efficiency of food production and reduce pollution.”
***“Health effects of nitrogen pollution more important than climate effects”***
“The nitrogen cycle is interwoven with the climate system in various ways,” Hermann Lotze-Campen points out, co-author of the study and co-chair of PIK’s research domain Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities. Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, on the one hand is one of the major greenhouse gases. On the other hand, nitrogen containing aerosols scatter light and thereby cool the climate.
And as fertilizing nutrient, nitrogen enhances the growth of forests which binds CO2. “Currently the health effects of nitrogen pollution are clearly more important, because the different climate effects largely cancel out,” says Lotze-Campen. “But this may change – hence limiting nitrogen would have the double benefit of helping our health today and avoiding climate risks in the future.”
Article: Bodirsky, B.L., Popp, A., Lotze-Campen, H., Dietrich, J.P., Rolinski, S., Weindl, I., Schmitz, C., Müller, C., Bonsch, M., Humpenöder, F., Biewald, A., Stevanovic, M. (2014): Reactive nitrogen requirements to feed the world in 2050 and potentials to mitigate nitrogen pollution. Nature Communications [DOI:10.1038/ncomms4858]
Weblink to Nature Communications where the article will be published: http://www.nature.com/naturecommunications
For further information please contact:
PIK press office
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07
Jonas Viering | PIK Potsdam
Farming with forests
23.09.2016 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES)
Ecological intensification of agriculture
09.09.2016 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Friction stir welding is a still-young and thus often unfamiliar pressure welding process for joining flat components and semi-finished components made of light metals.
Scientists at the University of Stuttgart have now developed two new process variants that will considerably expand the areas of application for friction stir welding.
Technologie-Lizenz-Büro (TLB) GmbH supports the University of Stuttgart in patenting and marketing its innovations.
Friction stir welding is a still-young and thus often unfamiliar pressure welding process for joining flat components and semi-finished components made of...
Optical quantum computers can revolutionize computer technology. A team of researchers led by scientists from Münster University and KIT now succeeded in putting a quantum optical experimental set-up onto a chip. In doing so, they have met one of the requirements for making it possible to use photonic circuits for optical quantum computers.
Optical quantum computers are what people are pinning their hopes on for tomorrow’s computer technology – whether for tap-proof data encryption, ultrafast...
The Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP has been developing various applications for OLED microdisplays based on organic semiconductors. By integrating the capabilities of an image sensor directly into the microdisplay, eye movements can be recorded by the smart glasses and utilized for guidance and control functions, as one example. The new design will be debuted at Augmented World Expo Europe (AWE) in Berlin at Booth B25, October 18th – 19th.
“Augmented-reality” and “wearables” have become terms we encounter almost daily. Both can make daily life a little simpler and provide valuable assistance for...
With the help of artificial intelligence, chemists from the University of Basel in Switzerland have computed the characteristics of about two million crystals made up of four chemical elements. The researchers were able to identify 90 previously unknown thermodynamically stable crystals that can be regarded as new materials. They report on their findings in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
Elpasolite is a glassy, transparent, shiny and soft mineral with a cubic crystal structure. First discovered in El Paso County (Colorado, USA), it can also be...
For the first time, Fraunhofer IKTS shows additively manufactured hardmetal tools at WorldPM 2016 in Hamburg. Mechanical, chemical as well as a high heat resistance and extreme hardness are required from tools that are used in mechanical and automotive engineering or in plastics and building materials industry. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden managed the production of complex hardmetal tools via 3D printing in a quality that are in no way inferior to conventionally produced high-performance tools.
Fraunhofer IKTS counts decades of proven expertise in the development of hardmetals. To date, reliable cutting, drilling, pressing and stamping tools made of...
29.09.2016 | Event News
28.09.2016 | Event News
27.09.2016 | Event News
29.09.2016 | Materials Sciences
29.09.2016 | Materials Sciences
29.09.2016 | Interdisciplinary Research