Joining forces: The role of the natural and social sciences in addressing the Global Nitrogen Problem

A wealth of scientific knowledge exists on the role of nitrogen in the natural and agricultural world, with research dating back over a century. Nitrogen sustains life and has enabled modern food production to keep up with the demands of the growing human population. However, we have reached a critical state where the use of synthetic nitrogen needs to be regulated due to the multitude of environmental impacts. The problem is that the effect nitrogen has on the planet is rarely discussed outside of scientific circles. With the recent development of international campaigns to address the global nitrogen problem, it’s time to put nitrogen research into practice with the help of social science.

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How can we help salt marshes recover after an oil spill?

Salt marshes impacted by oil spills (like Deepwater Horizon) often experience vegetation diebacks and a loss of ecosystem function. Researchers recently found that re-establishing the dominant salt marsh vegetation, Spartina alterniflora, is critical to ensure and enhance the presence of other marsh animals. Unexpectedly, the addition of fertilizer had little to no effect on the recolonization of salt marsh critters.

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Growing food with garbage – how fertilizing crops with food waste could solve the problem of finite landfill space

Much of the organic-rich waste (e.g. food scraps, yard waste) that ends up in landfills could be put to better use, like building soil fertility for crops. A recent study suggests that crops grown in soils that have been amended with a variety of landfill-destined organic waste products produce comparable yields to plants grown with conventional synthetic fertilizers.

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