Grist Sheds Light on the Dark Side of Nitrogen

grist nitrogen cycle image

Image: compliments of Grist

Our friends over at Grist are asking a serious question about the nitrogen dilemma: Is America Fertilizing Disaster? This is the first piece in a series, and is a great primer in nitrogen, its uses, and abuses.

The basic story is simple:

  • Nitrogen makes up 78% of the earth's atmosphere, as N2.
  • All of the proteins used by all of the plants and animals on earth are built by plants, which can use solar energy to fuel the demading process of incorporating nitrogen from the soil into amino acids.
  • Only certain plants, like legumes, can take the stable form of nitrogen out of the atmosphere and restock the soil nitrogen levels.
  • In 2007, American farmers dumped 5.7 million tons of synthetic nitrogen onto their crops as fertilizer, making an end-run around nature's irksome process.
  • Only about 30-50% of that nitrogen is needed, and used, by the crops. The remainder runs off into water or volatilizes into the air. Neither is a good thing.

But there is much energy does nitrogen synthesis use? What happens to the rivers, lakes and bays when nitrogen levels in the water spike? And what does synthetic nitrogen have to do with global warming? Not to mention why are agricultural emissions completely exempt from climate change planning?The first in the series at Grist makes a good start at putting the issue in front of the public. Is it a public too global-warming weary to dive in and take the bait? Maybe. But global warming is a distant, diffuse problem. Citizens across America, from lakes in Minnesota, to the Chesapeake Bay or anywhere along the Gulf Coast, this problem is real, concrete and disturbing.

We recommend you take a look at what Grist has to say. With emotional examples and constructive analysis, Grist is leading on the path to a solution to the Nitrogen Dilemma.

More on Fertilizer:
China's Fertilizer Fetish Making Soils More Acidic - Up to 100 Times Worse Than Acid Rain
Excessive Fertilizer Use Decreasing Grassland Biodiversity: Scientists Discover Why
Ocean "Dead Zones" Increasing: 400 Oxygen-Deprived Areas Now Exist

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