People who want to eat healthy and live sustainably have a new way to measure their impact on the environment: a Web-based tool [http://n-print.org/sites/n-print.org/files/footprint_sql/index.html#/home] that calculates an individual's "nitrogen footprint." The device was created by University of Virginia environmental scientist James N. Galloway; Allison Leach, a staff research assistant at U.Va.; and colleagues from the Netherlands and the University of Maryland.
The calculator is a project of the International Nitrogen Initiative, a global network of scientists who share research and data on the nitrogen dilemma. The project was announced Feb. 19 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.
What's the nitrogen dilemma? Though some residents of the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico likely are familiar with it, it's unknown to most Americans outside the agricultural world. For the last 30 years, Galloway and other leading scientists have been noting fish kills in coastal areas, threats to human health as a result of air and water pollution, and changes to global biodiversity and climate. This tool is one of their attempts to foster more understanding of nitrogen's role in our lives.
"Nitrogen, as any farmer knows, is essential to plant life," said Galloway, associate dean for the sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences at U.Va. and the Sidman P. Poole Professor of Environmental Sciences. "But the widespread use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to boost crop production has resulted in excess nitrogen coming off farms essentially adding unwanted, unneeded fertilizer to our natural systems, with disastrous results. The combustion of fossil fuels adds even more nitrogen to our environment. It's a largely untold story."
Scientists are calling nitrogen pollution a major environmental pro
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University of Virginia