By Dr Richard Payne & Professor Nancy Dise
New scientific research suggests that the impacts of nitrogen pollution may extend even further than previously thought.
Over the last 100 years the global population has increased four-fold to seven billion people and may reach nine billion by 2075. How to produce enough food to feed all these people is one of the biggest global challenges.
Throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first century, food production has been dramatically increased by improving agricultural yields, particularly by applying nitrogen fertilisers. In 1908, the German chemist Fritz Haber invented a method for producing ammonia fertilizer from the inert nitrogen gas which is in the air all around us.
Haber’s discovery earned him a Nobel prize and paved the way for cheap, industrially-produced fertilizer. A miracle of industrial chemistry, today around 150 mega-tonnes of nitrogen fertiliser are produced annually and half of the global population would not be alive without Haber’s process.
However increasingly it is being realised that this huge benefit to human development comes at a high price. Human production of reactive nitrogen is now more than double natural nitrogen fixation and we have unwittingly conducted a huge global-scale experiment in geoengineering.
The problem is that…
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