Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Researchers assess effects of a world awash in nitrogen

Humans are having an effect on Earth's ecosystems but it's not just the depletion of resources and the warming of the planet we are causing. Now you can add an over-abundance of nitrogen as another "footprint" humans are leaving behind. The only question is how large of an impact will be felt.

In a Perspectives piece in the current issue of Science (Dec. 16, 2011), Arizona State University researcher James Elser outlines some recent findings on the increasing abundance of available nitrogen on Earth. In "A World Awash in Nitrogen," Elser, a limnologist, comments on a new study showing that disruption to Earth's nitrogen balance began at the dawn of the industrial era and was further amplified by the development of the Haber-Bosch process to produce nitrogen rich fertilizers.

Until that time nitrogen, an essential building block to life on Earth and a major but inert component of its atmosphere, had cycled at low but balanced levels over millennia. That balance ended around 1895.

"Humans have more than doubled the rate of nitrogen inputs into global ecosystems, relative to pre-industrial periods, and have changed the amounts of circulating phosphorus (like nitrogen, a key limiting ingredient for crops and other plants) by about 400 percent due to mining to produce fertilizers," Elser said.

The result has been immediate and widespread, he added.

Commenting on a major new finding in Science by G.W. Holtgrieve and colleagues, Elser said that signs of the "new N" appeared in all regions of the Northern Hemisphere in a remarkably coherent manner beginning around 1895, in concert with when fossil fuel combustion and large scale biomass burning accelerated across the globe. Another significant increase came around 1970 coincident with massive increases in industrial nitrogen fixation for fertilizer production, just as the "Green Revolution" got started.

The effects of the high nitrogen inputs "were immediate, and no place in the Northern Hemisphere – not even the highest reaches of the Arctic – was safe," Elser stated.

One effect from the increased nitrogen inputs can be seen in our inland water features like lakes, reservoirs and rivers.

"Nitrogen deposition to lakes leads to phytoplankton (at the base of food chain) with low content of the important nutrient phosphorus," Elser said. "This is kind of like 'junk food,' for animals that eat the phytoplankton. Such effects are likely to ripple upward in the food chain."

"Overall, changes in nutrient regimes (due to human acceleration of the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles) cause various problems, but especially reduction in water quality, in water supplies and deterioration of coastal marine fisheries ('dead zones')," Elser added. "In the U.S., conservative estimates indicate that nutrient over-enrichment of inland waters results in about $2.7 billion of annual economic costs annually, due to negative impacts on recreational water usage, waterfront real estate values, the cost of recovery of threatened and endangered species and drinking water provisions."

On a grander timeline the effects could be more telling of humans themselves, Elser said.

"Whether such signals are an ephemeral blip in the stratigraphic record or a sustained shift lasting millennia may, in due time, be seen as an indicator of humanity's success, or failure, in achieving planetary sustainability," he added.

Skip Derra | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Earth's magnetic field Hemisphere dead zone food chain humans nitrogen

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dispersal of Fish Eggs by Water Birds – Just a Myth?
19.02.2018 | Universität Basel

nachricht Removing fossil fuel subsidies will not reduce CO2 emissions as much as hoped
08.02.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

New 4-D printer could reshape the world we live in

21.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

21.03.2018 | Trade Fair News

Physicists made crystal lattice from polaritons

20.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>