Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Study Probes Sources of Mississippi River Phosphorus

09.05.2011
In their eagerness to cut nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, people have often sought simple explanations for the problem: too many large animal operations, for instance, or farmers who apply too much fertilizer, which then flows into waterways.

But according to new modeling research that examined phosphorus loading from all 1768 counties in the Mississippi River Basin (MRB), the true causes aren’t nearly so straightforward. Livestock manure is widespread in many MRB counties, for example, but it shows little relationship to water quality, say researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Cornell University in the May-June 2011 issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality.

Moreover, areas that load the most phosphorus into the Mississippi are also places where farmers add less phosphorus to the soil than they remove each year in crop harvests, suggesting that overzealous fertilizer use is not the issue.

“If it were that, it would be easy to solve. But it’s not that,” says Mark David, a University of Illinois biogeochemist who led the research. “It’s much more complex. So I think in that sense addressing the problem is harder.”

Soil erosion and tile drainage contribute large amounts of phosphorus to the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico each year, helping fuel a “dead zone” of oxygen-starved water in the Gulf that reached near-record size last summer. Local water quality may also decline due to phosphorus-driven algal blooms.

In an effort to pinpoint the most important sources of phosphorus across the entire MRB, David’s team calculated the yearly phosphorus inputs and outputs for every county in the basin from 1997 to 2006. After aggregating these and other data within 113 watersheds throughout the MRB, they then estimated the river load of phosphorus from every county between January and June for the same time period.

Not surprisingly, counties with intensive row crop agriculture, such as those in the Upper Midwest Corn Belt states of Iowa, Illinois and Ohio, contributed the most phosphorus to rivers. However, these same counties often showed negative phosphorus balances, meaning that phosphorus outputs in crops exceeded inputs by farmers.

In other words, farmers in these regions are actually mining stored phosphorus from the soil, rather than putting more into the system, David says. “But that negative balance doesn’t have much to do with the phosphorus that gets in the river.” Instead, the overall intensity of agriculture seems to matter most. “When I’m sitting here in Illinois in a watershed that’s 95% corn and soybeans, it’s going to lose some phosphorus,” he says, “whether the balance is negative or positive.”

In addition, although animal manure is considered a major phosphorus source to streams and rivers, it was relatively unimportant to phosphorus loading across the entire MRB. David suspects the reason is that most large-scale animal farms have moved to western states in the basin, such as Colorado, where there’s less precipitation to carry manure nutrients into the Mississippi.

Phosphorus from human waste did prove significant. Counties encompassing Chicago and other major metropolitan areas “showed up as hot spots,” David says, because most municipalities don’t remove phosphorus from the otherwise clean sewage effluent they discharge into streams. The team further found that about half of the variation in phosphorus loadings was not explained by their models, suggesting that other factors also contribute, such as stream bank erosion and phosphorus deposits in river sediments.

Overall, the findings suggest that reducing phosphorus pollution will require broad adoption of practices that limit nutrient runoff, such as cover crops, buffer strips, and incorporation of fertilizers. It will also require limits on phosphorus discharge from cities.

Achieving these objectives across the entire MRB won’t be easy, but David hopes the study helps people move beyond common assumptions about causes to focus on the real issues.

“To me the value of the study is that it helps shift the debate,” David says. “The problem is not as simple as two things. It’s not as simple as too much fertilizer or manure.”

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation’s Biocomplexity in the Environment/Coupled Natural-Human Cycles Program.

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at https://www.agronomy.org/publications/jeq/abstracts/40/3/931.

The Journal of Environmental Quality is a peer-reviewed, international journal of environmental quality in natural and agricultural ecosystems published six times a year by the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). The Journal of Environmental Quality covers various aspects of anthropogenic impacts on the environment, including terrestrial, atmospheric, and aquatic systems.

The American Society of Agronomy (ASA) www.agronomy.org, is a scientific society helping its 8,000+ members advance the disciplines and practices of agronomy by supporting professional growth and science policy initiatives, and by providing quality, research-based publications and a variety of member services.

Sara Uttech | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.agronomy.org

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Climate change, population growth may lead to open ocean aquaculture
05.10.2017 | Oregon State University

nachricht New machine evaluates soybean at harvest for quality
04.10.2017 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Ocean atmosphere rife with microbes

17.10.2017 | Life Sciences

Neutrons observe vitamin B6-dependent enzyme activity useful for drug development

17.10.2017 | Life Sciences

NASA finds newly formed tropical storm lan over open waters

17.10.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>