The pathway to go after farming and fertilizers

Reading this, especially with the climate doom opening paragraph, I’m left with the idea that it will be used as a tool to limit modern farming practices by going after yield enhancing chemical fertilzers.

…it might even be feasible to use the knowledge in order to prevent nitrous oxide from being released into the atmosphere, for example, by additives in fertilizers that preserve the functioning of N2O-reductase…

From the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Nature: How the N2O Greenhouse Gas Is Decomposed

For the First Time, Microbiologists Identified the Structure of the Bacterial Enzyme that Decomposes Nitrous Oxide and the Decomposition Mechanism
Nature wie das Treibhaus N2O abgebaut wird
The N2O-reductase enzyme possesses four reactive centers for the decomposition of nitrous oxide into elemental nitrogen. (Source: BIOSS/ University of Freiburg)

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a harmful climate gas. Its effect as a greenhouse gas is 300 times stronger than that of carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide destroys the ozone layer. In industrial agriculture, it is generated on excessively fertilized fields when microorganisms decompose nitrate fertilizers. Decomposition of nitrous oxide frequently is incomplete and strongly depends on environmental conditions. Researchers from Freiburg, Constance, and KIT have now identified the structure of the enzyme that decomposes nitrous oxide and the decomposition mechanism. Their results are published in the Nature journal (AOP; DOI:10.1038/nature10332).

The study demonstrated that the N2O-reductase enzyme possesses active centers made up of four copper atoms and two sulfur atoms. “Surprisingly, we found that microbiologists all over the world have assumed an incorrect structure so far,” explains Professor Oliver Einsle, group leader at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the University of Freiburg. Scientists have assumed a single sulfur atom only and have not been able to completely identify the nitrous oxide decomposition mechanism. Based on the new data, the reaction sequence of the enzyme can be modeled much better. Future investigations are to provide further details and help understand which influence environmental conditions have on the process.

“It was of decisive importance that all steps of our investigation were executed in the absence of air oxygen,“ emphasizes Walter G. Zumft, retired professor of Karlsruher Institute of Technology. In contact with oxygen, parts of the enzyme react and the enzyme changes its structure. Together with Dr. Anja Pomowski from the University of Freiburg, the bacteria were cultivated under an oxygen-free atmosphere, the enzymes were isolated on a large scale, crystallized, and the structure was analyzed using X-rays. The team of four authors was completed by Professor Peter Kroneck from the University of Constance.

“The current study provides interesting and complementary insight into the nitrogen cycle,” says Dr. Ralf Kiese from the KIT Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research. Nitrous oxide and nitrogen production on fields, pastures, and in forests depends on a multitude of often opposing effects. Last year, a KIT study demonstrated that animal husbandry may lead to less nitrous oxide unter certain conditions (doi:10.1038/nature08931).

Detailed knowledge of microbial processes and their dependence on environmental conditions might help to better model the nitrous oxide contribution to the climate. In the long term, it might even be feasible to use the knowledge in order to prevent nitrous oxide from being released into the atmosphere, for example, by additives in fertilizers that preserve the functioning of N2O-reductase or by optimized processes in sewage treatment plants.

KIT press releases on other studies relating to nitrous oxide:
“Greenhouse Gases from Forest Soils”

http://www.kit.edu/visit/pi_2011_6446.php

”Cattle Reduce Nitrous Oxide Emissions“

http://www.kit.edu/visit/pi_2010_883.php

Homepage of the working group of Professor Einsle at the University of Freiburg: http://portal.uni-freiburg.de/xray.

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is a public corporation according to the legislation of the state of Baden-Württemberg. It fulfills the mission of a university and the mission of a national research center of the Helmholtz Association. KIT focuses on a knowledge triangle that links the tasks of research, teaching, and innovation.

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52 thoughts on “The pathway to go after farming and fertilizers

  1. This is truly frightening, once again. The Climate Change meme has infiltrated every pore of ‘science’ turning it into an engine running on fumes: carbon dioxide, methane, and now the new kid on the block…a cousin of laughing gas.

  2. “The pathway to go after farming and fertilizers”

    Here we go – we ARE going to starve, freezing in the cold (and in the dark) after all …

    /not sarc

    .

  3. Don’t know if it is frightening. Urea is the form of nitrogen fertiliser used. Half of it is estimated to volatilise before it is absorbed by the soil or plants. The problem with urea is that it also requires organic carbon to be most effective. As it utilises the organic carbon, more urea needs to be applied every year.
    So if the pathway is found to be different then a mechanism to reduce the amount of urea might be found and costs reduced. If yields remain the same or even improve then this research could be very useful for increasing farm productivity without increasing costs.
    Just ignore the carbon junkies and take the knowledge.

  4. Take any research project in any scientific field, add dire predictions of climate catastrophe, boiling oceans, angry Martian landings, apocalypic paranoia driven by wild-eyed journalistas, and what do you get?

    The Decline and Fall of Science.

    I feel bad for the biochemists. Their work has been subverted by lunatics with an agenda. The biochemists should never have published. Instead, they should have written up their findings in secret and placed them in a time capsule — to be opened only when the world is no longer insane.

  5. Nitrogen is the new CO2. Reactive nitrogen both cycles through the environment and reacts with the biosphere in ways not completely understood. The potential of nitrate pollution is being used to stop development using septic systems is much of northern New Jersey and Maryland is attempting to follow suit. There are fertilizer bills that are sweeping the country to limit lawn fertilizer- these are simply stalking horses to establish an impairment of intended use under the CWA. The Nitrogen TMDLs just imposed on the 5 states draining into Chesapeake Bay allow EPA to determine not only the required reduction of N loadings but also decide winner and losers with respect to what sectors of the economy are allowed the now limited nitrogen allocation. Soils scientists and ecologists from NJ to FL are being smeared in the press if they dare to speak up.
    However of most concern should be Barnegat Bay NJ where excess nitrogen is accused of killing the Bay. The narrative for the Bay is now turning to accuse power plants for the excessive N load (despite EPA saying N is down 35 to 40% in the region over the last few decades). The surface waters flowing into the Bay have total nitrogen levels less than what USGS uses as the pristine natural background and also what EPA has established as the reference condition for this eco-region. The Bay may actually be at 60 to 100 year lows for nitrogen loading when we factor in the fact that all wastewater was removed from the Bay by 1980 and the once thriving poultry industry crashed a number of decades ago leaving very little agriculture. Much of the “science” is expert opinion however the agencies overseeing the work have said the critical reports are confidential. (The expert opinion used to develop the nitrate model to limit septic tanks is also confidential.)
    Barnegat will be used to establish an extreme sensitivity to nitrogen and will be used to stop future development in the basin as well as justify renewed demands for controls of NOx in emissions.

    Nitrogen may be a much more powerful control tool than CO2 and more importantly the original Clean Water Act gave EPA all the power it needs the to act.. EPA had been hesitant to broadly use TMDLs because they are in essence de-facto controls over every agriculture, development and energy decisions we make. That hesitancy has evaporated.

  6. It’s easy to get rid of nitrous oxide. But it’s a new one expounded by people who think ruminants are harmful to the atmosphere because of methane, except their manure is helpful to soil microbiology that sustains plant fertility and production. Certain fertilizers are condemned now, organic only. Super phosphate is one that should not be used as it kills off soil microbiology.

  7. Jack
    The ammonia volatilization from fertilizer especially manure is now becoming a ground zero issue with EPA’s attempts to control non-point sources of nitrogen with TMDls

  8. …it might even be feasible to use the knowledge in order to prevent nitrous oxide from being released into the atmosphere, for example, by additives in fertilizers that preserve the functioning of N2O-reductase…

    Relax, there is no Soylent Green conspiracy here.

  9. Pat @ 22/8 10.55 pm. Yes Pat our local University has been given a research grant to cut down
    nitrous oxide in the soil. If you put Gypsum in the soil it cuts down nitrous oxide production in waterlogged clay soils that become anaerobic.

  10. MikeD,
    What is sad are the attacks on scientists. A group of Florida scientists had found that an increase of algae in a spring was not the result of increased nitrogen but the loss of grazers – in this case a snail see http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_politics/2011/03/re-writing-the-septic-tank-fertilizer-nitrogen-gospel.html
    Sadly, these researchers were “cautious” to openly speak about contrary findings as this reporter wrote:
    “Because that “nitrogen story” is regarded as something like environmental gospel, and nitrogen pollution is a major concern worldwide, Cohen and several of his students speak cautiously of their finding that nitrates may not be the only, or even the most important, cause of the algae overtaking Florida’s springs”
    Earlier FL stories attacked soil researchers as tobacco scientists for their concerns with respect to the new fertilizer laws. In NJ an academic soil scientist wrote the fertilizer bills sponsor warning the bill may do more harm than good. No changes were made to the Bill whose scientific basis was crafted by a 2nd year law student working as an intern for one of the NGOs pushing the Bill.

  11. “It was of decisive importance that all steps of our investigation were executed in the absence of air oxygen,“

    They are after the oxygen too? This bad, bad oxygen pollution of the air…
    /s (I hope)

  12. Mike D. says: August 22, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    “Take any research project in any scientific field, add dire predictions of climate catastrophe, boiling oceans, angry Martian landings, apocalypic paranoia driven by wild-eyed journalistas, and what do you get?

    The Decline and Fall of Science. “

    Too true!! Science without a moral or ethical dimension, where almost none have any philopsophical training in their own “religion” now believes that it has the right even duty to moralise to the rest of us about our ethical failings based on nothing more than a belief that as scientists they are somehow superior despite the fact that almost nothing they say or do is backed by the evidential base which is the fundamental philosophical basis of science.

    Bogus hogus pocus! Second rate politicians.That’s what science is now!

  13. The study demonstrated that the N2O-reductase enzyme possesses active centers made up of four copper atoms and two sulfur atoms.
    That’s interesting. Modern well fertilised soils are often depleted in sulphur and it is not routinely added. It may limit the growth and activity of organisms that produce/use this enzyme.

  14. Organic fertilisers have sulphur but anaerobic soils are depleted of oxygen. They kill good microbiology and some microbiology can switch from good aerobic soils to anaerobic. Considering the air we breath is 78% nitrogen there are some scientists who on another gravy
    train to make money out of hot air. Septic tanks are a different thing, they need to break down
    correctly and one can’t use bleaches or certain disinfectants as it kills the bacteria needed to break them down. Although the ancient Eqyptians actually used human excrement to fertilise the soils too. Mind you they weren’t that healthy when drinking or using the Nile water it spread that snail that killed them. Now they have a vaccination against infection.

  15. ‘Nitrous Oxide is a harmful climate gas’ says it about all as far as these people are concerned.

    No It Is Not.

    It as a NATURAL gas in the atmosphere the concentration which remains very low and therefore completely harmless. It is an Inferred reacting gas that looses its heat though convection, conduction to the monotonic gasses and a bit of radiation.

  16. Anthony, I think you have missed the point entirely.

    Far from being a “tool to limit modern farming practices by going after yield enhancing chemical fertilzers” (sic), this is presented as opportunity to mitigate the impact of fertilisers at the point of use: “it might even be feasible to use the knowledge in order to prevent nitrous oxide from being released into the atmosphere, for example, by additives in fertilizers that preserve the functioning of N2O-reductase”. Thus scuppering a major anti-farming and fertiliser argument.

    The products of N2O reduction are N2 and water. As far as I know these are not perceived as bad for the environment. In the absence of N2O-reductase activity the denitrification of NO3- to N2 is incomplete, and N2O is the volatile product.

    Whether denitrification is incomplete of not, the process represents loss of reactive nitrogen which has been supplied to support crop growth, usually in the form of manufactured urea or ammonium nitrate. These are manufactured in energy intensive processes and to lose the reactive nitrogen into the atmosphere is economically wasteful. This was the position before the Carbonistas took over, and will be when their sham is finally accepted as such.

  17. If they did all that under an oxygen-free atmosphere, how can their results be used to better model the nitrous oxide contribution to the climate when the atmosphere isn’t oxygen-free? In industrial agriculture, how often are fields fertilized in air oxygen-devoid conditions?

  18. The Australian Federal Senate have just got one legislation through the back door. I haven’t the exact details but it is considered a world first. They will allow farmers to trade carbon credits overseas when we haven’t passed the carbon tax yet.
    Now there was legislation on the cards about taxing livestock (ruminants) for methane emissions to stop people eating meat (by the Greens of course and PETA)
    $11 per head per year for cattle and $7 per year for sheep. Even Ross Gaunaut suggested farmers should make more money out of carbon sequestration credits than wool. Even suggested they farm kangaroos (a marsupial) instead of cattle. In this new world first they
    mention curbing methane emission from livestock. Now how the hell are they going to do that!
    Grow trees instead of meat. And wool. They are crazy, and this is getting legislation through the back door wait to see when it hits the headlines amongst carbon tax skeptics and protesters. I’m sick to the stomach with this government, so am going to bed now.

  19. “It was of decisive importance that all steps of our investigation were executed in the absence of air oxygen,“ emphasizes Walter G. Zumft, retired professor of Karlsruher Institute of Technology. In contact with oxygen, parts of the enzyme react and the enzyme changes its structure.
    ==================
    this makes the whole study null and void, soil gives off oxygen. sure poop pits on Cafos have anearobic isses thats where they should be utilising the methane as they did onfarm decades ago in usa. anaerobic soils wont be growing anything of worth.
    bloody ridiculous.

  20. Harmful climate gas

    Not just a “climate gas”, but a “harmful” one.
    I like it when they put stop-reading-now codes in early in the article.

  21. The “climate change” aspect sounds like a hook for funding to me. The application of suppressing the release of NO2 would actually improve the yield/reduce the amount of fertilizer required and thus would be a very good thing.

  22. “Saving the Planet is NOT about People. People ARE the Problem! People ARE expendable! Long Live the Planet!”

    Sounds a little ‘German’, dosen’t it?

  23. I am forced to recognize that what we are seeing is a very sophisticated resurrection of Gaia worship. The earth was a pristine and pure place prior to humanity. Humanity only pollutes and despoils. If humanity would only leave the earth and go elsewhere, the earth could return to being pure.

    This is coupled with a form of self-loathing, especially when some people enjoy such prosperity and many cannot. This manifests itself in the desire to shut down energy use and to transfer wealth to the poor in the third world. This is a two-fer: assuaging the sense of guilt over being so prosperous satisfies on several fronts.

    This new form of a very old religion is dangerous to our liberty and prosperity.

  24. Pat Moffitt says:
    August 22, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    C:N:P is 106:16:1 based on marine plankton (studied long ago). A focus on N is kinda dumb in a system like Chesapeake, since you can’t really make it limiting. If N is limiting, the population of N-fixers will increase and N fixation will bring the nitrogen levels up to roughly the 16:1 N:P level. In fresh water, nitrogen fixers like cyanobacteria can produce toxins released when they die. Fish kills are not uncommon due to reduced dissolved oxygen levels and/or toxin release. Animals on the shoreline can be affected that eat the algae mats blown ashore. The way to avoid these very bad problems is to ADD nitrogen in order to increase biodiversity. Limiting P is a better way to make water oligotrophic.

    http://gtresearchnews.gatech.edu/newsrelease/nitrogen.htm

    The story is not completely understood.

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v402/n6760/abs/402372a0.html

    Nitrate is not a problem in salt water since nobody is going to drink it. The population at risk is mainly infants (blue-baby syndrome). There may be toxic effects in fish, unfortunately such studies are typically poorly done (limited species, uncertain conditions). Although there are claims that nitrate can cause algal blooms, I doubt that it can. Studies on fresh water indicate the algal blooms are due to an excess of P, not N.
    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrate#Marine_toxicity, at your own risk.

  25. Declining technology perceived as increasing technology.

    First induce scarcity, then control and ensure its continuance. Control food and information, and we are left with a completely Orwellian nightmare! Being forewarned, I have to say we deserve it!

    Typically, we create, or at least assist in our own demise. Collectively, we reap the consequences of our mis-directed actions. Only on a individual basis, do we find tragedy worthy of sympathy. GK

  26. N2O is about 0.78 ppb, methane 1750 ppb, and Co2 390 ppm. N2O is supposed to be 310 times better at heat-trapping than CO2, which is 20 times better than water vapor. BUT, methane is 1/500,000th as abundant. 310 x 1/500,000 = 0.00062 the heat-trapping ability of the atmospheric CO2. This could go up 10,000-fold and still be inconsequential. [So much for the methane ice scare!]

    If CO2 is responsible for 3–5% of the “greenhouse” warming (which actually might not exist at all), then N2O is responsible for 0.0031% of the warming. If we are about 30 deg C warmer for having these gases in the air, then N2O could be, gasp, causing 0.001 deg C of warming. CO2 by man (at 5% of total emissions) causes about 0.05 deg C and methane about 0.13 deg C.

    As atmospheric methane has been decreasing steadily for years, with only short-lived spikes after volcanic eruptions, methane decreases alone can easily cancel out the effects of any CO2 increases.

    You’ve got to be kidding that they really think that this is an issue to anything or anybody. Except, of course, for those people who hate people, the self-loathing enviros who want to find any reason to starve the world to a lower population.

  27. I don’t see a totally reducing atmosphere occurring in a corn field any time soon, I’m thinking they got the wrong bacterium.

    Interesting side point, nitrifying bacteria can’t survive in environments which contain concentrations of 2.0ppm and above of their food source. Its a common problem in aquaria and aquaculture.

  28. This is one near and dear to me and I’ve been battling with my Vegan friends over for years. If you take away chemical/oil-derived fertilizers, and still intend to feed yourself, let alone the world, the only way to do that effectively is with larger amounts of “natural” fertilizers. You know… Cow $#!+ etc. Means more methane (GHG) producing critters and e-coli outbreaks from your fruits and vegetables. It’s not nearly as efficient or safe (sterile) for consumers as our current chemical fertilizers, and you’ll feed fewer mouths. Since everything in life is a trade-off, that’s what you’ll face with this one.

  29. Prjindigo:

    Anthony wrote above:

    Reading this, especially with the climate doom opening paragraph, I’m left with the idea that it will be used as a tool to limit modern farming practices by going after yield enhancing chemical fertilzers.

    I replied:

    Declining technology perceived as increasing technology.

    First induce scarcity, then control and ensure its continuance. Control food and information, and we are left with a completely Orwellian nightmare! Being forewarned, I have to say we deserve it!

    Typically, we create, or at least assist in our own demise. Collectively, we reap the consequences of our mis-directed actions. Only on a individual basis, do we find tragedy worthy of sympathy. GK

    Would you clarify to aid corrective action? GK

  30. Reading this, especially with the climate doom opening paragraph, I’m left with the idea that it will be used as a tool to limit modern farming practices by going after yield enhancing chemical fertilzers.

    Maybe, but the thrust of the article is toward making fertilizer more effective. If successful, they will reduce the cost of fertilization.

  31. perhaps we should encourage the great unwashed to engage in experimentation in nitrogen liberating compounds and reactions. saying that because of their fast reaction times the gang could do what ammounts to a years worth of research in an afternoon.

    that ought to thin the herd a bit.

    C

  32. by the way my old chemistry teacher used to say “its a blessing that the schlubs drop out of school before we get to the chapter on nitrogen compounds.”

    C

  33. Hoser

    I think its pretty clear under some scenarios that an increase in reactive nitrogen will increase productivity in near shore marine environments. And while you are correct that N fixation can occur and is important – it can be argued whether the potential for complete satisfaction of N demand by fixation is universal.
    An increase in productivity can be good or bad often depending upon the metric it is compared with. However nitrogen is just one variable determining a system’s productive state. Increased productivity can arise from natural variability, reduction in grazing, allelopathy, temperature increase, turbidity decrease, mixing, residence time and other variables including some we as yet do not know.

    The real threat to addressing some of the challenges our estuaries face is that nitrogen is now a political tool. One model that is being used by NOAA “simplifies” this complex system to a single variable -conveniently- nitrogen. The very real problems that many of our estuaries experience, altered wetlands (ditching), the collapse of oysters from MSX and Dermo, silica deficiency, changes in hydrology, habitat loss etc will now be held hostage to the politically expedient proxy- nitrogen. I am in no way saying that there are not some estuaries that may benefit from a reduction of N. However the recent push to control nitrogen is not about fixing estuaries – its about fixing us.

  34. My take is slightly different. No soil will go on producing harvested crops forever. It will become depleted in nutrients, about 20 to choose from. The nutrients need to be in approximately correct ratios to each other for best yield. Some will deplete faster than others. Nitrogen is a little different because legumes can convert abundant atmospheric nitrogen into nitrates or nitrites or more complex beasties that are essential for plant growth.
    Apart from this main exception to the general mechanism, that is why we fertilize. One needs to replace what one removes or the well runs dry.
    If you use the common nitrogenous sources like urea or ammonium nitrate, you will suffer some losses to the air of ammonia or one of the gaseous oxides. It is difficult to predict in advance what species you will lose and how much of it.
    If these researchers have developed a protein that reduces the loss to air, then the nitrogen presumably stays in the soil, where it has a chance to do some more good fertilizing work.
    In the longer term, the viability will depend on the cost of the protein versus replacement of the loss.
    There is no need for dark thoughts, this is just a normal progression in the long history of the science of plant nutrition. (Confession: I have a dark thought, that adding ammonia to sea water might make it more alkaline, when the doomsayers are wishing CO2 to make it less alkaline). BTW, I spent several years researching N use in a big, brand new urea plant, so I’m talking from experience. Any errors?

  35. Pat Moffitt says:
    August 23, 2011 at 12:55 pm
    Hoser

    Remember, we don’t get to deal with details much here. Thanks for taking the time to comment on my post. Very much appreciated. If you have ever noticed my posts before, you will note a heavy slant to the political side. I’m completely aware of that part of the game. I was offering a simple way around control-by-nitrogen, using the argument that P is what they “should ” be limiting if anything, since N can be captured from the atmosphere. I agree, N fixation won’t always reach the 16:1 ratio. As I said, the story is not simple.

    As an added bonus, it’s hard to claim P is a greenhouse gas. I guess it doesn’t count then.

    I tried to point out adding N can be beneficial since it can diminish the cyanobacteria that may cause the fish kills perhaps due to toxins (released when they die) and low DO (produced or maintained by the decay of dead algae). The point is, adding N can increase biodiversity, and reduce the fraction of cyanobacteria. Low N gives nitrogen fixers a growth advantage. Higher N may help keep fish alive, especially if P is elevated in runoff. If N is already in excess, and P is limiting, the excess N can’t stimulate growth.

    Geoff Sherrington says:
    August 23, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    N2 fixation does add NH3 to water. It increases alkalinity by tending to capture more CO2 as bicarbonate and carbonate.

  36. If we are to acknowledge that N is a significant climatic problem, then the enviro-gaia movement will push for mandatory restrictions on fertilizer use. They will follow the same over-reaction as with CO2, with targeted pseudo-science, and demands to eliminate use.

    A more expensive fertilizer ($/lb) would be imposed on the industry due to a perceived threat. The farmer loses the ability to choose the best fertilizer, for his unique operation. The claim of increased efficiency is only theorized.

    New fertilizers are great for farmers, as long as they can decide for themselves, which to use. Market forces and competition will determine their efficiency.

    How long before we hear demands for a nitrogen tax? Driving up fuel and fertilizer costs will impact the world population and economy, as well.

    Does it not strike people as strange, that activists and gaia worshipers have targeted the two most important plant foods – Nitrogen and CO2. I guess that just leaves H2O to scarcify. Btw, adding, N, under climatic cooling will have little effect. Only warmth and fertilizers will increase yields, as it is only required, during vigorous growth. GK

  37. Not a “Thumper”, but I did grow up in a civilization that relied on a certain book for most of it’s fundamentals; sorry to say much of these have evaporated and it now rests on a bunch of sand without much to hold it together. Anyway, long story short, there’s a lot of people, they all seem to speak a common language for some strange reasons, they’ve built this thing they call the World Wide Web, the longer they ‘talk’ on it the more they “think” they know, go figure, the more they think they know the more they forget. One day they’re going to forget so much that everything is going to seem to them to fall apart. When this happens, they’ll do what they always do and blame someone other than themselves. Someone they can’t see or hear or touch, but someone they just know is responsible for all the good and bad in their little speck of a world.

    What’s the connection to farming and fertilizers? Hell if I know, but there sure seems to be a common thread in there somewhere, especially when you step back and think about it from the inside of a nice cool (or warm) cave. I guess we haven’t changed much in the past 6 million years after all. Who knew?

  38. Hoser,
    It is interesting that we are often presented with graphs showing increasing problems related to increasing nutrients. What is carefully avoided is for many of these waterbodies there were also fundamental changes in grazing (ex oyster die-off), loss of habitat etc occurring simultaneously. To ascribe all the changes in productivity ( some of which are positive) to P or N (which are the only vaiables of regulatory interest) is deceptive at best. A recent USGS study (Circular 1350) cited evidence that the R2 for phosphorus on productivity was only 0.12 (and suggested it might actually be much lower). Habitat alteration played a far larger role than did P. Yet we don’t see EPA fundamentally changing course to promote habitat improvement– it is not in their regulatory interest to do so.
    I am not one to further bastardize the science -it is already sufficiently wounded -to politically push back on Nitrogen. I believe the proper way forward is to reframe environmental improvement as best served by corrective action and not senseless attacks on our economic system disguised as protection. The greatest threat to the environmental movement is improvement in environmental quality. We should be pushing wetland and oyster rehabilitation, fishery and habitat enhancement etc as our answer to the public perception of a degraded ecosystem with real world cost benefit analyses for the projects. And remember ultimately the Public has the right to choose whether it does or does not want to pay the costs (My gut is that the cost of fixing our environmental issues will be a fraction of the costs compared to our current “protection” efforts.).

    Now that I’ve stepped back off my soap box– the real issue with respect to nitrogen (and the dirty little secret) is that levels for many areas have been falling for decades due to catalytic converters, improved wastewater treatment, stabilization of fertilizer usage over the last 3 decades, improved Ag practices and the Clean Air Act requirements. So if nitrogen levels have been falling during the period when supposed “problems” were increasing- how we can we possibly blame it on N?

    An example -when settlers first arrived on the prairies nitrogen levels were so high there were actually salt deposits on the surface. N was so high it killed domestic cattle that fed on the vegetation. N was so high many crops could not be raised and corn went up like a fuse when lit because of the high levels of potassium nitrate crystals in the stalks. What no current EPA researcher dares discuss is the role of fire- prior to the 20th century practice of fire suppression- and the explosion of N fixation. So if I was to take a political stand I would be strongly pushing for a long term nitrogen trend analysis which just might show for many areas that current air quality with respect to N and even ozone (especially during the critical warm weather period of the year) is approaching or better than it was 100 plus years ago.

    And as to your point re cyano bacteria and other pico-nano bacteria the issue that is no longer PC is the fact that they often increase as the result of nutrient deficiency especially silica. But declining nutrient levels as a potential environmental concern does not fit the narrative.

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