Sunday, May 18, 2008

Excessive reactive nitrogen in environment alarms environmental scientists

Science Daily: ….[The] problem of excessive reactive nitrogen in the environment is little-known beyond a growing circle of environmental scientists who study how the element cycles through the environment and negatively alters local and global ecosystems and potentially harms human health.

Two new papers by leading environmental scientists bring the problem to the forefront in the May 16 issue of the journal Science. The researchers discuss how food and energy production are causing reactive nitrogen to accumulate in soil, water, the atmosphere and coastal oceanic waters, contributing to the greenhouse effect, smog, haze, acid rain, coastal "dead zones" and stratospheric ozone depletion.

"The public does not yet know much about nitrogen, but in many ways it is as big an issue as carbon, and due to the interactions of nitrogen and carbon, makes the challenge of providing food and energy to the world's peoples without harming the global environment a tremendous challenge," said University of Virginia environmental sciences professor James Galloway, the lead author of one of the Science papers and a co-author on the other. "We are accumulating reactive nitrogen in the environment at alarming rates, and this may prove to be as serious as putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."

Galloway, the founding chair of the International Nitrogen Initiative, and a co-winner of the 2008 Tyler Prize for environmental science, is a longtime contributor to the growing understanding of how nitrogen cycles endlessly through the environment. In numerous studies over the years he has come to the realization of the "nitrogen cascade."

…"A unique and troublesome aspect of nitrogen is that a single atom released to the environment can cause a cascading sequence of events, resulting ultimately in harm to the natural balance of our ecosystems and to our very health," Galloway said.

Galloway's next effort is to create a "nitrogen footprint" calculator that people can access on the Internet, very similar to current "carbon footprint" calculators. He says people can reduce their nitrogen footprints by reducing energy consumption at home, traveling less, and changing diet to locally grown vegetables (preferably organic) and fish and consuming less meat...

M. Diago (author), Fabrica de Guano Wetzig, Weickert y Cía. (Guano Factory Wetzig, Weickert & Co.), 1920, Huelva. From an exhibition, Un siglo de carteles en la agricultura española (1870-1960) (A century of posters in the Spanish agriculture) held in the Ministerio de Agricultura, Pesca y Alimentación, Madrid, Spain (November 15th to 30th, 2005). The exhibition was organized by the state-owned enterprise SAECA. The exhibited material belongs to Carlos Velasco, Economics teacher by the UNED. The photographer, Miguel A. Monjas, has generously released the image into the public domain. Via Wikimedia Commons

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