I’m currently working on the final bits of analysis for the nitrogen addition experiment at DIRECT. This is looking at the combined effects of climate change and nitrogen pollution in our grassland system. Despite the fact that nitrogen gas (N2) is the most abundant compound in the atmosphere, nitrogen pollution, in the form of compounds such as ammonia (NH3), nitrate (NO2–) and nitrous oxide (N2O), is a big problem.
These compounds are all produced naturally, but excessive agricultural fertilisation, poor waste management and the burning of fossil fuels have increased their release in the environment. Ammonia and nitrates can cause eutrophication and acidification of waterways and terrestrial ecosystems with negative effects for biodiversity and ecosystem health, while nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas which is contributing to climate change. Nitrogen pollutants also contribute to smog and the associated negative consequences for human health.
There is a lot of evidence of the damage nitrogen pollutants cause globally, with the European Nitrogen Assessment estimating the cost to us as up to €320 billion per year in the EU, however we still have a lot of learn about how the effects of this pollution might be altered (exacerbated?) by changes in the environment and climate.
Regardless, the easiest way to reduce the effects of such pollution under any climate conditions is to reduce the pollution. By now most people have heard of Carbon Footprint calculators (there are many others available), but you can now calculate your Nitrogen Footprint too. If you want to find out more about nitrogen pollution, its effects on the environment and human health, and how you can reduce your N-footprint, check out the N-print project website.
In case anyone was wondering, my N-print is about 21 kg per year, which is lower than the UK average of 28 kg. It is helped by the fact that I’m a vegetarian, so avoid N-intensive foods like beef, but it is hugely hindered by my weekly commuting between Nottingham and Silwood. Since I can’t easily change that during the next year, I guess I’ll have to be extra careful of my energy usage and waste levels to try to make up for some small part of it.