Navigation Links
Nitrogen from humans pollutes remote lakes for more than a century

Nitrogen derived from human activities has polluted lakes throughout the Northern Hemisphere for more than a century and the fingerprint of these changes is evident even in remote lakes located thousands of miles from the nearest city, industrial area or farm.

The findings, published in the journal Science Dec. 16, are based on historical changes in the chemical composition of bottom deposits in 36 lakes using an approach similar to aquatic archeology. More than three quarters of the lakes, ranging from the U.S. Rocky Mountains to northern Europe, showed a distinctive signal of nitrogen released from human activities before the start of the 20th century, said Gordon Holtgrieve, a postdoctoral researcher at University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and lead author of the report. The UW and a dozen other research institutions contributed to the research.

"When it comes to nitrogen associated with humans, most studies have focused on local and regional effects of pollution and have missed the planetary scale changes," Holtgrieve said. "Our study is the first large-scale synthesis to demonstrate that biologically-active nitrogen associated with human society is being transported in the atmosphere to the most remote ecosystems on the planet."

Burning fossil fuel and using agricultural fertilizers are two key ways humans increase the amount of nitrogen entering the atmosphere. Once in the atmosphere, this nitrogen is distributed by atmospheric currents before being deposited back on Earth in rain and snow, often thousands of miles from the source.

"Turns out the world, for nitrogen, is a much smaller place than we'd assumed," said co-author Daniel Schindler, UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences and the Harriet Bullitt Chair in conservation.

Although nitrogen is a vital nutrient for life so much so that farmers apply fertilizers containing it to bolster food crops too much nitrogen can be harmful. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says humans already have doubled the rate of nitrogen released to the biosphere since 1950. Humans now contribute more nitrogen to the biosphere than all natural processes combined. When produced in developed areas, this excess nitrogen can lead to smog, acid rain and water pollution.

The effects on remote forests, lands and lakes are largely unknown, Schindler said. An increasing body of evidence, however, shows that the biological composition of microscopic communities in Arctic lakes changed with the arrival of human-derived nitrogen. This global nitrogen pollution may interact with climate change to produce a "double whammy" that could alter remote lakes in ways not seen in the past 10,000 years, Schindler said.

Using statistical models to analyze nitrogen characteristics of lake sediments, the authors show that the chemical fingerprint of nitrogen pollution started about 115 years ago, shortly after the Industrial Revolution, and that the rate of chemical changes increased during the last 60 years with industrial production of nitrogen for fertilizers.

"This study also provides an explicit chronology for entry of the Earth into the 'Anthropocene' a new geological era in which global biogeochemical cycles have been fundamentally altered by human activity," said co-author Peter Leavitt, professor of biology at the University of Regina and the Canada Research Chair in environmental change. "The signal will only get stronger in the future as we double fertilizer use in the next 40 years to feed 3 billion more people."

The authors conclude that climate, natural sources of nitrogen, and normal chemical processes on land and in water cannot account for the chemical signals they observe.

"Given the broad geographic distribution of our sites and the range of temperate, alpine and arctic ecosystems we believe the best explanation is that human-derived nitrogen was deposited from the atmosphere," Holtgrieve said.

"The global change debate is dominated by discussions of carbon emissions, whether among scientists, politicians or the lay public," said co-author Alexander Wolfe, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at the University of Alberta. "However, in a relative sense, the global nitrogen cycle has been far more perturbed by humanity than that of carbon."


Contact: Sandra Hines
University of Washington

Related biology news :

1. Nitrogen applied
2. Lichens function as indicators of nitrogen pollution in forests
3. Cropland diversity reduces nitrogen pollution
4. Researchers call for nitrogen and phosphorus reductions to combat eutrophication in aquatic systems
5. Tree species composition influences nitrogen loss from forests
6. Illinois Soil Nitrogen Test measures microbial nitrogen
7. UC Davis begins $2.8 million in studies of agricultural nitrogens impacts
8. Nitrogen research shows how some plants invade, take over others
9. Ozone, nitrogen change the way rising CO2 affects Earths water
10. Nitrogen fixation and phytoplankton blooms in the southwest Indian Ocean
11. Is nitrogen the new carbon?
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Nitrogen from humans pollutes remote lakes for more than a century
(Date:10/26/2015)... and LAS VEGAS , ... Nok Labs , an innovator in modern authentication and ... today announced the launch of its latest version of ... platform enabling organizations to use standards-based authentication that supports ... Nok S3 Authentication Suite is ideal for organizations deploying ...
(Date:10/23/2015)... California , October 23, 2015 ... (SMI) announce a mobile plug and play integration of ... real-world tasks SensoMotoric Instruments (SMI) present ... wearable solutions for eye tracking and physiological data registration. ... SMI Eye Tracking Glasses 2w and physiological ...
(Date:10/22/2015)... 2015 About fingerprint biometrics ... individual with the database to identify and verify an ... loop. Pattern-based algorithms are used to match an individual,s ... was introduced in 1986, which is being used by ... criminal. Technavio,s analysts forecast the global fingerprint ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), ... MultiGP, also known as Multirotor Grand Prix, to represent the First–Person View (FPV) racing ... AMA members have embraced this type of racing and several new model aviation pilots ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... QUEBEC CITY , Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... (the "Company") announced today that the remaining 11,000 ... Common Share Purchase Warrants (the "Series B Warrants") ... agreement were exercised on November 23, 2015, which ... Common Shares.  After giving effect to the issuance ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... Creation Technologies would like ... to Deloitte's 2015 Technology Fast 500 list of the fastest growing companies in ... Class II medical device that speeds up orthodontic tooth movement by as much ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. , Nov. 24, 2015  PDL ... John P. McLaughlin , the company,s president and chief ... Piper Jaffray Healthcare Conference next week in New ... and will occur on Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 9:30 ... and Presentations." Please connect to the website at least 15 ...
Breaking Biology Technology: