Nitrogen: Blessing and curse

The chemical element nitrogen (N) is an essential building block of all life on Earth and represents the fourth most common element in biological organisms, including us. Because of its importance for plant growth and food production humans have doubled the natural input of available nitrogen to our ecosystems, with adverse effects on the environment and our health. This surplus of nitrogen led to the expansion of the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and Baltic Sea, the concentration of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide is increasing in the atmosphere and infants suffer from high nitrate concentration in the drinking water. Schlesinger describes in his article where all the nitrogen ends up that we humans produce for fertilising our fields. He also warns that our knowledge of the nitrogen cycle is still limited and that nitrogen accumulation in unexpected places will lead to environmental deterioration.

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Phosphorous the disappearing nutrient

We better rethink our phosphorus use before we run out of it. Phosphorous is a vital nutrient for humans, animals, and plants and is heavily used as a fertiliser on agricultural fields. Our food production relies on deposits that will most likely run out of phosphorus within the next decades, with little prospects of alternatives. How will we be able to fertilise our crops in the future?

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Permafrost soils and carbon cycling

Permafrost soils make up 15 % of the global land cover and store more than 822 petagrams of carbon in their upper most three centimetres alone (the weight of 182,000,000,000 adult elephants). When comparing this with the annual carbon dioxide emissions of an average German citizen of approx. 2.4 tons C per year1 it becomes clear that we need to prevent these soil from breaking the masses of carbon within these soils. Warming of permafrost leads to the release of carbon, making them a source of the greenhouse gasses carbon dioxide and methane.

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