Should the periodic table bear a warning label in the 21st century or be revised with a lesson about elemental supply and demand?
If so, that lesson could start with one element considered a staple of life but growing endangered, like the Asiatic dhole phosphorus.
Why is phosphorus pivotal? Phosphorus is in the DNA of all plants and animals. It is a key ingredient in fertilizer, but high quality phosphate deposits for mining are limited in both quantity and locality. Indeed, there are increasing concerns that with 85% of the resource limited to three countries in the world, inexpensive phosphorus may become a vestige of the past.
What could happen then? That's a question that scientists James Elser, a professor at Arizona State University, and Elizabeth Bennett, a researcher at McGill University in Canada, want to tackle sooner rather than later. In their commentary "The phosphorus cycle: a broken biogeochemical cycle" published in the Sept. 6 issue of Nature, the duo examine the lack of public and governmental discourse about the plight of the element phosphorus and the potential social consequences of inaction.
Elser and Bennett in North America, and researchers Dana Cordell and Stuart White with Institute for Sustainable Futures in Australia, are just a few of the rising tide of scientific voices calling for early environmental attention and action. Awareness is a critical piece that needs to be addressed, along with better global accounting and technological innovation, the researchers say, to build pre-emptive, sustainable solutions for this broken biogeochemical cycle.
In the United States, for example, the strategic dimensions of a limited phosphorus supply are just beginning to be recognized and reported. On the other hand, Morocco, which possesses the largest phosphorus reserves in the world, is already planning for the inflow of millions of dollars a white gold that could result from global
|Contact: margaret coulombe|
Arizona State University