Home » Posts tagged 'nitrogen'

Tag Archives: nitrogen

Olduvai
Click on image to purchase

Olduvai III: Catacylsm
Click on image to purchase

Post categories

Beware of the N-bomb

Beware of the N-bomb

There are good, and frightening, reasons to closely follow the changes in the nitrogen cycle. We should not be surprised if the effects and costs of disturbing it turn out to be as dramatic as those for the carbon cycle. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions from nitrogen fertilizers are around 3% of global emissions, but they are not visible in greenhouse gas inventories. The abolition or drastic reduction in the use of chemical fertilizers is a pre-condition for a sustainable food system.


In farming, the availability of nutrients, particularly of nitrogen, potash and phos­phorus – mostly referred to by their chemical symbols N, P and K – is a major limiting factor. All traditional farming systems have had some strategy for replacing nutrients in the soil. One is to rest the soil and allow a natural re-charge and release of nutrients from the soil and through atmospheric decomposition. Crop rotations with leguminous crops can fix nitrogen from the air and the nutritional demands of the various crops can complement each other. Phosphorous, from deeper layers or bound in the soil, can be ‘mined’ by some crops making it available to others. Nutrients can also come from irrigation water (especially sediments in flood waters), animal manure, human waste, plants, grass and other residues, a plethora of natural organic fertil­izers. Farmers have used oil-cakes, feathers, leathers, bone, sea weed and fish as fertilizers. There are even reports that human remains from battlefields and ossuaries have been used as fertilizers. Yet all these methods have some limitations, and in most cases they require a lot of work or other efforts.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Nitrogen Crisis: A neglected threat to Earth’s life support systems

Nitrogen Crisis: A neglected threat to Earth’s life support systems

Planetary Boundaries. Nitrogen and biodiversity are farther out of safe limits than any others (Rockstrom et. al, Nature, 2009)

Part One of a discussion of the disruption of the global nitrogen cycle by an economic system that values profits more than life itself.


Continuing our series on metabolic rifts


Nearly half a century ago, in Scientific American, ecologist C.C. Delwiche warned: “Of all man’s recent interventions in the cycles of nature the industrial fixation of nitrogen far exceeds all the others in magnitude.”[1]

Although that is much more true today, nitrogen pollution is one of the least discussed environmental problems.

If you ask green activists to identify their major concerns, climate change and species extinctions will likely be named first, followed by air pollution, deforestation and maybe population growth. If nitrogen is mentioned, it will be way down the list. Although there are many scientific and technical studies on the nitrogen crisis, few popular books on environmental issues have anything substantial to say about it. Organic farmers are concerned about nitrogen in synthetic fertilizers, but there are no anti-nitrogen demonstrations, no international nitrogen reduction treaties, no politicians defending or denying the science.

As the 2013 report Our Nutrient World says,

“While recent scientific and social debate about the environment has focused especially on CO2 in relation to climate change, we see that this is just one aspect of a much wider and even more complex set of changes occurring to the world’s biogeochemical cycles. In particular, it becomes increasingly clear that alteration of the world’s nitrogen and phosphorus cycles represents a major emerging challenge that has received too little attention.”[2]

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

More vegetables, less meat for all our sakes

More vegetables, less meat for all our sakes

Spanish market: Vegetable-rich diets make for a healthier planet. Image: By ja ma on Unsplash

Researchers are clear: the healthy diet for a healthy planet is more vegetables, less meat. What matters is the food that’s served, and the way it’s produced too.

LONDON, 17 January, 2019 − An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

Goal within reach

It addresses the twin problems of global food supply: altogether 3 billion people are either under-nourished, or approaching clinical obesity because they are too well-nourished.

And global food production in its present form is helping to drive global warming and climate change, trigger accelerating biodiversity loss, pollute the rivers, lakes and coasts with ever greater levels of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and make unsustainable use of both land and fresh water.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a food scientist at the City University of London, and one of the authors.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Ohio’s watershed moment: How to fix Lake Erie algae

THE GREEN MONSTER

Ohio’s watershed moment: How to fix Lake Erie algae

The western tail of Lake Erie brims with life. Warm, shallow waters along the Ohio-Michigan border teem with bass, bluegill, and walleye, sustaining a billion-dollar fishing industry. Millions of people from Cleveland to Detroit draw their drinking water from this nook of the lake. Yet every summer, nasty blooms of toxic algae put the entire system at risk.

Scummy blankets of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, have appeared at alarming scales since the early 2000s, killing plants and fish and straining water treatment facilities. Four years ago, algal blooms were so bad that residents of Toledo were told not to drink or use tap water for three days. Scientists say they know the primary source of the blooms: phosphorus and nitrogen that wash off farms in northwest Ohio and flow into the lake. What’s less clear is how policymakers and farmers will act to stem the nutrient pollution.

A high-profile effort by the state’s Republican governor, John Kasich, to tackle toxic algae is in limbo after months of contentious meetings, political infighting, and strong resistance from the state’s agricultural interests. The delays mean that his successor, Mike DeWine, another Republican, will be responsible for carrying out or discarding Kasich’s vision.

Kasich is pushing to declare eight watersheds in northwest Ohio as “distressed,” a maneuver that would enable regulators to adopt rules for curtailing agricultural runoff across some 7,000 farms. This summer, he issued an executive order that tasks a state commission with approving the “distressed” designations. But that commission recently decided to put off a decision until February — after Kasich leaves office.

If upheld, the order would start by requiring farmers to lay out detailed strategies for applying chemical fertilizers and spreading manure.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How to Make Instant Garden Beds

HOW TO MAKE INSTANT GARDEN BEDS

A common problem when just starting a garden is dealing with the fact that we’ve not had time to condition the soil, fostering it into something heaving with fertility. Or, maybe we just aren’t that far into gardening yet anyway and don’t know what to do. Basically, it seems we are left with the option of using what we have and hoping for the best, or we can spend a heap on importing soil and compost and such. Fortunately, there is another route, an inexpensive way to make garden beds instantaneously.

Often referred to as lasagna gardens or sheet mulching, an instant garden bed requires little to nothing being brought in, and it can be cultivated right away (though it will get nicer as time passes). It begins with kitchen scraps, maybe some manure (or other high nitrogen items), old cardboard boxes or newspaper, and some mulch material such as dried grass, straw, or shredded leaves. In other words, most of what we need is already around waiting to be used.

STEP ONE: FOOD FOR THE WORMS

One of the nice elements of this kind of garden is that it doesn’t require digging and tilling. Rather, whatever grass or weeds are growing in the garden space, leave them right where they are. Fresh green material provides a good boost of nitrogen.

Atop this, add a bucket full of kitchen scraps (no need to wait for it to compost) and, if available, some well-rotted manure, whatever is around: horse, rabbit, cow, chicken, etc. If manure isn’t available, other high nitrogen items would be more fresh grass clippings or spent coffee grounds from the nearest coffee shop.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Fixes for Nutrient Deficient Soil

FIXES FOR NUTRIENT DEFICIENT SOIL

Basic understanding of plant health comes from the soil they grow in. Their nutrition is vital to their health and overall sustainability, so it’s essential for plants to get all of the macronutrients necessary to thrive.

However, there are times we still struggle with a plant mysteriously dying off long before its time. It happens, but this is often indicative of a bigger problem with the nutrients in the soil. If one plant is struggling, others nearby may be too.

One method that has worked for me is specifying what nutrients appear to be lacking and why. It’s obvious that plants need nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (commonly known as NPK), but plant health is complex and nutrient deficiencies can stem from many places.

1.  NITROGEN

Pale yellow, stunted leaves are a sure sign of nitrogen deficiency. Nitrogen is essential in photosynthesis, cell health, and chlorophyll development. Nitrogen depletion in soil happens when large amounts of carbon are added to the soil, typically after nearby plants decay and die. Microorganisms will use available nitrogen to break down the new carbon source and quickly deplete the nitrogen available to the plant. This stunts the plant’s growth.

To correct a nitrogen deficiency, consider planting nitrogen-rich plants like beans and peas nearby. Adding used and rinsed coffee grounds to the soil to promote nitrogen production. Rinsing the grounds will not affect acid levels of the soil. A plant with plenty of nitrogen available to it will appear leafy green.

2.  PHOSPHORUS

Phosphorous ensures healthy cell division, fruiting, and root growth. Similar to nitrogen deficiencies, plants with a lack of phosphorus will struggle to grow. The edges of their leaves may darken to a brown or reddish-purple. Flowers or fruits will not grow. Some contributors to phosphorus deficient soil include cold temperatures, heavy rainfall and acidic soil.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Betting the Earth on a Game of Wrap-Cut-Smash

Betting the Earth on a Game of Wrap-Cut-Smash

Photo by Kevin Gill | CC BY 2.0

The Earth is having to deal with continuous, largely unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases, along with soil degradation, mass extinction of species, destruction of ecosystems, and disruption of nitrogen, phosphorous, and water cycles. Meanwhile, efforts to head off the planet-wide ecological crisis remain trapped in a game of rock-paper-scissors. [1]

Let’s start with the “paper,” which represents the kinds of paper exercises purporting to show that prosperous “green growth” can carry humanity and the Earth together through a better and better future. These include, for example, the 2015 “Ecomodernist Manifesto” [2] and a series of “100% renewable wind, water, and sunlight energy roadmaps” [3] published in recent years. Such cornucopian analyses undergird the mainstream climate movement’s vision of a smooth transition to a greener, happier, more prosperous world.

The paper, however, is cut up by the “scissors”— the restraints on resource exploitation and consequent cutbacks in production of goods and services, along with other human activities, that will be necessary if ecological catastrophe is to be avoided. Rooted in the knowledge that infinite growth is impossible and efficiency a chimera, the idea that economic activity must be restrained was developed early on by the ecological economists Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Herman Daly [4] and has long been urged by the Post-Carbon Institute [5], “peak oil” campaigners [6], Tim Jackson, Ted Trainer, and various proposals for firm ceilings on energy consumption, with business and household quotas [7].

The scissors argument for the necessity of cutting throughput and pulling back within ecological limits is unassailable. However, most such analyses are focused on the world’s high-production, high-consumption economies, with few specific recommendations for how the billions of people in both rich and poor economies who already lack adequate access to resources can achieve material sufficiency.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How Do You Use Urine?

HOW DO YOU USE URINE?

Composting toilets are a great thing. They take what has become a problem in modern systems—human excrement—and make it into something useful: rich compost. Despite simple and effective ways of making composting toilets, humanure does still bring about some controversy with those who are worried about pathogens. Confident composters won’t hesitate to put a well-rotted humanure compost in vegetable gardens, whereas less trusting composters opt for applying it to fruit trees. The important thing about either type of composter, however, is that we start making the most of cycling the waste rather than contaminating our water sources.

With all of that said, urine is a completely different excretion, one that really doesn’t need to set off the same alarm bells. Most basic composting toilets are anti-urine, concerned about the high moisture levels, though some argue this needn’t be the case, that the moisture is actually good for the thunderbox. Nevertheless, the idea remains that urine is something else we should be thinking about. Unlike solid waste, urine applied to gardens doesn’t come with the risk of pathogens; rather, it is just, some would say, pure gold. In fact, it can be used in many different ways for boosting production.

MAKE WEE FOR THE GARDEN?

Urine Bucket (Courtesy of SuSanA Secretariat)

Urine is very high in nitrogen, so much so that it should be diluted a minimum ratio of 1:10 with water before being used on plants. The wee of one person is said to be rich enough to fertilize a tenth of an acre of vegetable garden for the year. Once diluted the micturition mixture, or tinkle tincture if you like, should be applied within twenty-four hours of the urine being expelled. Older urine can become a bacterial issue, and a smelly one at that.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Phosphate: All hopes rest on Morocco Walan et al., 2014

Phosphate: All hopes rest on Morocco Walan et al., 2014

[ My summary of paper: If you look around for what share Morocco has of phosphate reserves, you’ll see figures of 75 to 85% that will last 300-400 years.  But it’s not a done deal as Walan et al point out.

Phosphate is absolutely essential for high agricultural production, one of the “big 3” nutrients that boosts maximum crop growth (along with nitrogen and potassium). This paper points out that just like oil, it is the flow rate – how much is actually produced per year — that matters, not how much phosphate exists.

Phosphate can be “local”. For example, China and the U.S. use most of their phosphate domestically.

Morocco is the largest exporter and also has the largest deposits. So no worries?  Hopefully not, but there are factors such as below which could lower Moroccan exports:

  • War
  • Phosphate mining is very water intensive and Morroco has little, and are mining groundwater at an unsustainable rate
  • Phosphate mining is energy intense, oil shortages would disrupt production
  • Moroccan phosphate has a cadmium, which is very toxic to plants

Inevitably, the combination of rising cost will force phosphate production to peak and then decline, even in Morocco (Bardi 2009).

Extracts from this 26 page paper are below, not in order. There’s great material on the history, location, quality, and other aspects of phosphate as well.  Alice Friedemann, www.energyskeptic.com

Table 1. Main features of previous studies on phosphate rock depletion and production. * Most countries’ reserves will be depleted in less than 100 years. ** Reserve base is included in the highest reserve estimations

Table 1. Main features of previous studies on phosphate rock depletion and production.
* Most countries’ reserves will be depleted in less than 100 years.
** Reserve base is included in the highest reserve estimations

 

 

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Ecosystems Are Dying as Long Island Contends With a Nitrogen Bomb

Ecosystems Are Dying as Long Island Contends With a Nitrogen Bomb

 

Peconic Bay fishkill dead fish Long Island toxic algae bloom brown tide nitrogen

Photo courtesy of Stefan Beaumont
Dead fish pile up on the shore of Long Island’s Peconic Bay in this photo taken on June 1, 2015. The fish suffocated when an algae outbreak depleted the water of oxygen. Click image to enlarge.

Thousands of dead bunker fish and hundreds of diamondback turtles washed ashore last May in Peconic Bay on the east end of Long Island, New York. Fed by warming waters and a stream of nitrogen, a foul bloom of algae had so depleted the estuary of oxygen that marine life suffocated. The waters of the bay swirled red and brown.

The late-spring algae bloom was the beginning of a seasonal occurrence that has become distressingly common: a toxic summer in the waters of Long Island, the claw-like banner of land that extends 190-kilometers (118-miles) from Brooklyn to the Hamptons. Aureococcus, or brown tide, covered the south shore in June. Cochlodinium, or rust tide, appeared in Shinnecock Bay and Sag Harbor in early September. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, at least 15 lakes were overwhelmed by microcystis, a toxin produced by blue-green algae.


“We got away cheap with managing our waste. It’s all caught up to us.”

–Kevin McDonald
The Nature Conservancy


“You see pictures on TV of water in every shade but clear,” Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, a conservation group, told Circle of Blue.

Clear water is what Amper, who is 70, remembers from the Long Island summers of his youth. Clear water today is rare. The lethal palette that appears in the bays and rivers is a sobering signal that the island’s ecology is dangerously out of balance.

“You used to be able to wade shoulder deep and still see the bottom,” Amper recalled. “Now you can’t see your feet in 2 feet of water.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

With Too Much of a Good Thing, Europe Tackles Excess Nitrogen

With Too Much of a Good Thing, Europe Tackles Excess Nitrogen

In Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and other countries, European governments are beginning to push farmers, industry, and municipalities to cut back on fertilizers and other sources of nitrogen that are causing serious environmental harm.

by christian schwagerl

Only seconds after Claudia Wiedner drops the metallic rod into the gray waters of Lake Scharmützel, 30 miles southeast of Berlin, the probe starts sending signals back to her computer. On a cold, foggy day in March, Wiedner, a limnologist at the Brandenburg University of Cottbus-Senftenburg, and a research technician are out on the water in their small vessel to investigate nitrogen pollution.

The water samples they pull up tell an encouraging tale — at least in this lake. “We have been measuring reactive nitrogen and phosphorus in this lake since 1993 and what we see is a change for the better — levels have dropped considerably,” Wiedner says. Her colleague, Ingo Henschke, an avid diver and former fisherman, can attest to this, saying that better sewage treatment and a decrease in nearby farming have significantly improved water quality.

“I was able to document a return of large swaths of stoneworts algae and the rich water life they sustain,” Henschke says. 

But Scharmützel Lake is an exception in Germany — it serves as a kind of gold standard for positive changes. For like the rest of Europe and much of the world, Germany’s waterways are suffering from a surplus of nitrogen that is spread across fields as fertilizer, pours off of farms where livestock and chickens are raised, or flows out of factories, sewage systems, and wastewater treatment plants. The result is harmful algal blooms in lakes, dead zones in oceans, and an impoverishment of terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity — problems that the European Union is now trying to address. 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

WHAT DO YOU FEED YOUR FOOD?

WHAT DO YOU FEED YOUR FOOD?

Often we focus on what animals such as cows or chickens were fed prior to becoming our dinner meat or producing milk and eggs. But how often do we question what plants were fed before we consumed them? For those of us growing our own produce or acquiring locally grown food, it is relevant to know what the plants have eaten. What should I be feeding my food?

I am approaching this with the same question I ask when supplying all our needs. What are the healthy answers and how can we provide and make it ourselves? Not surprising to me at this point, my answers came after sifting through many conversations and articles on the web which, as usual, firmly repeat opinions as statements of fact both from one side of the pro-chemical GMO side versus the organic and heirloom foodies on the other. It requires invoking Cognitive Dissonance Rule #4: believe nothing but consider everything.

For those like me who have close to zero training and knowledge about growing plants, especially under the pressure of attempting to regularly supplement the family’s food supply, allow me to share the beginnings of my education in shedding my brown thumb. When filtering through information on the web and in books, it is easy to become intimidated by the complex explanations describing fertilizers, compost and soil amendments. Scaling it back to my level of comfort, here are the basics.

 

I thought all that was needed to grow food were sunshine, water and dirt with good drainage. It turns out there are three other vital factors. The first is the NPK available to the plants. NPK are the symbols for Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium. The second is other trace elements which plants need, much the same way humans need a variety of vitamins and minerals to thrive. The third is considering the pH level of the soil and understanding what the pH needs are for various plants.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
Click on image to purchase