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UC Davis begins $2.8 million in studies of agricultural nitrogen's impacts
Date:6/12/2009

UC Davis researchers will receive $2.8 million in new grants to study the use and impacts of nitrogen, a hero of the agricultural revolution that is increasingly viewed as a worrisome source of water and air pollution and potent greenhouse gases.

"This is one of the most important and least publicized environmental issues we face: Escaped nitrogen from agricultural production affects the quality of our air, water, and soil and has huge potential to contribute to climate change," said Tom Tomich, director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis.

"Many members of the public and politicians are unaware of the scope of this challenge. And many farmers are unaware that nitrogen management can save them money."

Nitrogen is a chemical element that occurs naturally in Earth's air, water and soil. It is essential to life, and cycles through all plants, animals and people. Nitrogen-based fertilizers help California farmers produce more than 400 agricultural commodities -- vegetables, fruits, meats and dairy products worth $36 billion a year.

But excess nitrogen is emitted from soils, seeps into groundwater and runs off into surface waters. Wastes from cattle, chickens and other livestock include nitrogen. Farm machines burning oil, gasoline and diesel release nitrogen to the air.

The resulting environmental impacts include:

  • Trapped solar radiation in the atmosphere, contributing to the "greenhouse effect" that is changing the Earth's climate;
  • Decreased high-altitude ozone, which allows more solar radiation to reach Earth's surface, causing skin cancer and adding to the greenhouse effect;
  • Increased smog and ground-level ozone, which can cause or worsen respiratory diseases such as asthma and viral infections such as the common cold;
  • High concentrations of nitrates in groundwater, which can cause methemoglobinemia, or "blue baby disease," and possibly bladder and ovaria
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Contact: Tom Tomich
tptomich@ucdavis.edu
530-574-2503
University of California - Davis
Source:Eurekalert

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