Study Highlights Earth’s Nitrogen Shortage Due to Changing Climate
Researchers concerned over rapidly declining nitrogen in the ecosystems due to greenhouse gas emissions
There has been a lot of discussion and research in the mid-century about the negative impact of nitrogen on our ecosystems. However, a recent study is now highlighting that the Earth is facing a severe nitrogen shortage. In some areas across the globe, there is a hockey stick-shaped graph of reduction in nitrogen. The climatic change is to blame for this another major concern for the world.
Nitrogen is a crucial element found in proteins. Its availability is also vital for the proper growth of animals and plants. After all, forests, gardens, and fisheries become more productive when a moderate amount of nitrogen-rich fertilizer is present.
Researchers in the new study’s review paper in the journal Science mention the causes of such drastic declines, and their adverse consequences on fragile ecosystems. According to Rachel Mason, lead author of the paper and a former postdoctoral scholar at the National Socio-environmental Synthesis Center, there is both ‘too much’ nitrogen and ‘too little’ nitrogen on the Earth at the same time.
Co-authors of the study include University of Michigan ecologist Peter Reich, who is also the director of the Institute for Global Change Biology at the School for Environment and Sustainability. Reich also supports Mason’s claim and mentions that too much nitrogen acts as a toxin. But declining nitrogen in ecosystems is not good as well. It indicates trouble for the normal function, productivity, and health of all organisms along with the ecosystem.
Impact of nitrogen shortage on plants
With increasing greenhouse gas emissions from various industrial activities, Earth’s atmosphere has soaked these emissions. As a result, there are increasing atmospheric CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels in the environment. Compared to 150 years ago, now the plants have around 50-percent more CO2. However, the nitrogen supply in the ecosystem is not keeping pace with the increasing CO2 levels. This can make plants depleted of nitrogen while causing ripple effects on the whole ecosystem.
The plants can do extra photosynthesis with extra CO2 in the ecosystem. But they also need nitrogen to make chlorophyll, which is crucial to make photosynthesis work. If the nitrogen falls short on the Earth, plant growth will slow down and their leaves won’t be nutritious to humans and animals who consume them.
Nitrogen deficiency could impact human well-being
The imbalance of CO2 and nitrogen will adversely impact the lifeforms that depend on plants for nutrition. It could affect human well-being too in so many ways. For instance, less protein concentration of nitrogen in grazing livestock diet can impact those who don’t have enough resources for providing sufficient supplemental feed to animals.
For farmers who rely on cattle in developing countries, low protein and nutrition content from plants means slow growth of animals. And, this could cause real livelihood issues for farmers who depend on cattle for income. Even other people won’t get enough protein and nutrients when plants and animals won’t grow properly.
So, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is crucial to addressing the nitrogen shortage. We have a big picture outlining what’s going on and how humans are disturbing the Earth’s ecosystem. Meanwhile, the earth is responding to the nitrogen shortage in very counter-intuitive and complex ways.
However, there are many uncertainties and regions where targeted research is needed. The research is important to understand the in-depth impacts of this arising issue worldwide.