Could Nitrogen Pollution Give Tropical Flora a Much Needed Boost?

Global warming and subsequent climate change is directly linked with human activity on our planet. The greenhouse effect is amplified by our need for energy, burning fossil fuels and pumping vast quantities of CO2 into our atmosphere. To make things worse, the plants that form the Earth’s “lungs” in the tropics are being destroyed on a massive scale, so less carbon dioxide can be scrubbed from the air. However, it’s not all bad news. Industry and agriculture also generate large amounts of excess nitrogen pollution and scientists now believe that this nitrogen (a main ingredient for fertilizer) may help to increase tropical plant growth by up to 20%…

From our high school classes, we all know that green plants, through photosynthesis, absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. It is essential for plants to flourish. By far the largest absorbers of carbon dioxide are the tropical rainforests in the Amazon basin, central Africa and southern Asia. They are often referred to as the “lungs” of Earth, as they absorb much of the atmospheric CO2 and provide balance to the carbon budget of our climate. If this resource is removed through wholesale deforestation, more CO2 collects in the atmosphere and global warming is amplified by the increase of this greenhouse gas.

However, help may be at hand. Taking the results from over 100 previously published studies, David LeBauer and Kathleen Treseder from the University of California Irvine, believe they have found a trend that suggests a strong link between nitrogen pollution and increased plant growth in tropical regions. Increased plant growth is a welcomed consequence of human activity, as faster plant growth means more plants to absorb more CO2. Although deforestation is a global catastrophe (much of the ancient forests will never recover and a vast proportion of plant and animal species are now extinct), the new research published in Ecology may influence future climate change models.

We hope our results will improve global change forecasts.” – David LeBauer, UCI graduate student researcher of Earth system science and lead author of the study.

Nitrogen pollution comes in many forms, the most obvious being from agricultural activity (fertilizer) polluting water supplies and industrial burning emitting nitrogen into the air. What’s more, nitrogen pollution is on the increase, especially in developing countries.

Nitrogen pollution has often been ignored as a possible growth agent in the tropics, as other fertilizing elements are in short supply (typically, if one element is low, no matter how high the other element is, it will have little or no effect on plant growth). Phosphorus for example, is low in tropical regions, but according to the new research, this doesn’t seem to factor and plant growth is increased by 20% regardless.

LeBauer adds: “What is clear is that we need to consider how nitrogen pollution interacts with carbon dioxide pollution. Our study is a step toward understanding the far-reaching effects of nitrogen pollution and how it may change our climate…” It may only be a step, but at least it’s a positive one.


9 Replies to “Could Nitrogen Pollution Give Tropical Flora a Much Needed Boost?”

  1. What forms of nitro? reduced ammonia, NOx, N2 etc. Only symbiotic denitrifying bacteria living w/i rhyzobium can reduce N2’s triple bond, besides lightning. Plants can’t linearly take up CO2 either, max increase will run 20-30% B4 overheated/saturated plants shut stroma to slow evapotranspiration & regulate metabolism & health. Too many science res ignore plant types. The quick-colonizing R-type repro fast for mass CO2 gains, but merely initially ’till’ soil for later stronger species which take over in the ecological succession. The original eutrophic community seldom returns, only the ‘weeds’ touted by researcherswho can’t see beyond their ‘law of mass action’.

  2. Global Warming is NOT directly linked to humans…

    Such onesided “reporting” is unbecoming of an otherwise excellent website..

    Check your blatant bias at the door and REPORT, not pontificate some made up Liberal Claptrap..

  3. Hey dbreit, you’re an absolute moron of the worst kind! Science does not come with “liberal” or “conservative” ties: It just IS. Global warming is governed by the laws of physics, not the laws of the United States, or even the laws of the Bible.

    Mother Nature does not vote, and she will gladly flood the homes of Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives alike.

    This is not a debate, it’s a FACT, and you can blame yourself when your children die in a category 5 hurricane, you coward.

  4. Gimme’ the bottomline… does it work, or not? Or, can it be made to work? Is it 4-real, or a pipedream (your pipe, or mine… makes nodifference)?

  5. Dbreit, the name itself, suggesting the intelligence of the thoughts,

    If you don’t want bias here then you don’t bring your obvious politics here. Only in America could you make Liberal an insult. Arm us with some of your obviously superior information instead of simply insulting ours.

    Thanks in anticipation of a somewhat more useful post.

  6. Well, gosh! We have some people posting comments that read the newspaper, but NOT the actual studies involving global warming as a man-caused problem! That the theory of Global Warming is “FACT” is, well, ridiculous in and of itself!

    That a science website such as this would ignore the the thousands of scientist who disclaim global warming in favor of the thousands of news reporters looking for shock headlines is, well, shocking itself.

    Global Warming IS politicized science that has no real basis in fact and could be called a liberal ploy for power. Like eugenics of the last turn of the century, scientists are forced to either play ball or give up their funding. But like eugenics, it’s simply wrong (and we know that now).

    Shame on Universe Today for stating that a disposed theory is fact. And shame on the public for buying into this rubbish. If you really feel the need to be guilty about something then look at how your own children are turning out…

  7. They are turning out just fine: intelligent, open-minded, and wise enough to use their HEAD when making decisions, instead of letting politicians make it for them.

    JamesB, I pity you. You talk intelligently enough, so how could you not believe what is right in front of your face? Are you the ostrich, sticking your head in the dirt and saying “I don’t see any problem!”?


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