Thursday, September 4, 2008

Nitrogen dilemma

While studies on the impacts of carbon continue, many realize we need to focus on what has been called "the missing greenhouse gas" as well: Nitrogen trifluoride. The abundance of which I have mentioned previously in regards to dead zones. It's rather complicated though. Think about biofuel research - these cornfields are over fertilized to increase production and further research intended to address our carbon concerns, but the nitrogen cycle and the damage may outweigh the benefits. Richard Morgan, for the NY Times, explains:

Nitrogen is part of all living matter. When plants and animals die, their nitrogen is passed into soil and the nitrogen in the soil, in turn, nourishes plants on land and seeps into bodies of water. Dr. Giblin is pursuing her research because as the Arctic warms, the tundra’s permafrost will thaw, and the soil will release carbon and nitrogen into the atmosphere.
When an ecosystem has too much nitrogen, the first response is that life blossoms. More fish, more plants, more everything. But this quickly becomes a kind of nitrogen cancer. Waters cloud and are overrun with foul-smelling algae blooms that can cause toxic “dead zones.” Scientists call this process eutrophication, but the laymen’s translation is that the water gets mucked up beyond all recognition. A recent such plague bedeviled China when its Yellow Sea was smothered in algae at Qingdao, the planned site of Olympic sailing events this summer. More than mere inconvenience, such problems routinely threaten many coastal areas and riverside communities.
Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, is known as Queen of the Dead Zone. She cruises around the Gulf of Mexico every summer in the research vessel Pelican to look for damage from nitrogen-rich river flows into the gulf. This year, she expects a dead zone that will beat the Massachusetts-size 8,500-square-mile bloom of 2002.

Read Morgan's exploration of "the nitrogen dilemma" in his most recent article:
Beyond Carbon: Scientists Worry About Nitrogen’s Effects

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