In the first study of its kind, Donner and Chris Kucharik of the University of Wisconsin quantify the effect of biofuel production on the problem of nutrient pollution in a waterway. Their findings will appear in the March 10 edition of the Proceedings of the National Journal of Sciences.
The researchers looked at the estimated land and fertilizer required to meet proposed corn-based ethanol production goals. Recently, the U.S. Senate announced its energy policy aims of generating 36 billion gallons annually of ethanol by the year 2022, of which 15 billion gallons can be produced from corn starch. The corn-ethanol goal represents more than three times than triple the production in 2006.
“This rush to expand corn production is a disaster for the Gulf of Mexico,” says Donner, an assistant professor in the Dept. of Geography. “The U.S. energy policy will make it virtually impossible to solve the problem of the Dead Zone.”
Nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural fertilizer have been found to promote excess growth of algae in water bodies – a problem that’s common across North America and in many areas of the world.
In some cases, decomposition of algae consumes much of the oxygen in the water. Fertilizer applied to cornfields in the central U.S. – including states such as Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin – is the primary source of nitrogen pollution in the Mississippi River system, which drains into the Gulf of Mexico.
Each summer, the export of nitrogen creates a large “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, a region of oxygen-deprived waters that are unable to support aquatic life. In recent years, it has reached over 20,000 km2 in size, which is equivalent to the area of New Jersey.
Donner and Kucharik’s findings suggest that if the U.S. were to meet its proposed ethanol production goals, nitrogen loading by the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico would increase by 10-19 per cent.
To arrive at this figure, Donner and Kucharik combined the agricultural land use scenarios with models of terrestrial and aquatic nitrogen cycling.
“The nitrogen levels in the Mississippi will be more than twice the recommendation for the Gulf,” says Donner. “It will overwhelm all the suggested mitigation options.”
The results of the study call into question the assumption that enough land exists to fulfill current feed crop demand and expand corn and other crop production for ethanol.
The study concludes that increasing ethanol production from U.S. croplands without endangering water quality and aquatic ecosystems will require a substantial reduction in meat consumption.
Lorraine Chan | EurekAlert!
Researchers simplify tiny structures' construction drip by drip
12.11.2018 | Princeton University, Engineering School
Mandibular movement monitoring may help improve oral sleep apnea devices
06.11.2018 | Elsevier
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
23.10.2018 | Event News
16.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
16.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
16.11.2018 | Life Sciences