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article imageFertilizer produces high levels of greenhouse gases

By Tim Sandle     Jun 11, 2014 in Environment
With an overload of fertilizer, soil microbes on farms produce high levels of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with 300 times as much heat-trapping power as carbon dioxide.
The new finding partly explains why agricultural nitrous oxide emissions are much higher than some scientists had predicted.
Soil microbes convert nitrogen-rich crop fertilizers, including manure and synthetic fertilizers, into nitrous oxide. Nitrogen-based fertilizers spur greenhouse gas emissions by stimulating microbes in the soil to produce more nitrous oxide. Agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of human-caused nitrous oxide emissions worldwide, which have increased substantially in recent years due to increased nitrogen fertilizer use.
After more than 1,000 field experiments, Infozine reports, climate scientists calculated in the mid-2000s that the dirt dwellers spew about one kilogram of the greenhouse gas for every 100 kilograms of fertilizer, or roughly 1 percent. Researchers generally thought that emissions would scale up linearly: doubling fertilizer would double the emissions of gas. However, a new finding indicates that the levels are far higher than previously thought.
The conclusion of the report argues that adding less nitrogen to over-fertilized crops elsewhere, however, would deliver major reductions to greenhouse gas emissions in those regions.
The new findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is titled “Global metaanalysis of the nonlinear response of soil nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions to fertilizer nitrogen.”
More about Fertilizer, Greenhouse Gas, Climate change, Bacteria
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