The nitrogen cycle has been profoundly altered by human activities, and that in turn is affecting human health, air and water quality, and biodiversity in the U.S., according to a multi-disciplinary team of scientists writing in the 15th publication of the Ecological Society of America's Issues in Ecology. In "Excess Nitrogen in the U.S Environment: Trends, Risks, and Solutions," lead author Eric Davidson (Woods Hole Research Center) and 15 colleagues from universities, government, and the private sector review the major sources of reactive nitrogen in the U.S., resulting effects on health and the environment, and potential solutions.
Nitrogen is both an essential nutrient and a pollutant, a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion and a fertilizer that feeds billions, a benefit and a hazard, depending on form, location, and quantity. "Nitrogen pollution touches everyone's lives," said Davidson, a soil ecologist and executive director of the Woods Hole Research Center. "This report highlights the latest understanding of how it's harming human health, choking estuaries with algal growth, and threatening biodiversity, such as by changing how trees grow in our forests." Its authors, a diverse mix of agronomists, ecologists, groundwater geochemists, air quality specialists, and epidemiologists connect the dots between all of the ways that excess nitrogen in the environment affects people, economics, and ecology. They argue for a systematic, rather than piecemeal, approach to managing the resource and its consequences. "We're really trying to identify solutions," emphasizes Davidson.
There is good news: effective air quality regulation has reduced nitrogen pollution from U.S. energy and transportation sectors. On the other hand, agricultural emissions are increasing. Ammonia, a byproduct of livestock waste, remains mostly unregulated and is expected to increase unless better controls on ammonia emissions from livestock operations are implemente
|Contact: Ian Vorster|
Woods Hole Research Center