Jill Baron (Colorado State University and USGS) and Jim Elser (Arizona State University) take readings at Green Lake to measure nitrogen depositions.
Scientists to gather in Boulder next week to develop a nitrogen assessment and management strategy
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — With evidence showing that nitrogen is increasingly affecting lakes in the Colorado high country, a group of top scientists from around the country will meet in Boulder next week to address management of the critical, life-giving element.
Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the May 18 conference will try to answer the question of how to take advantage of nitrogen fertilizer’s benefits without polluting the environment and damaging human health. The goal is to give policymakers consensus-based science on the consequences of increased nitrogen pollution.
While carbon dioxide gets all the global warming attention, nitrogen has also been implicated in a wide range of environmental impacts, moving easily through the atmosphere, from water to air and back to plants. Nitrogen contributes to human health problems, ozone layer depletion, smog, acidification of soils and water supplies, climate change, water pollution and coastal dead zones.
A map showing nitrogen depositions across the U.S. Click on the map to see the animated version.
Concern about nitrogen pollution is increasing. Last September, disruption of the nitrogen cycle topped the list of global tipping points in this Nature study. Other scientists have ranked nitrogen pollution as one of the top threats to global biodiversity. The Christian Science Monitor reported on nitrogen here.
“A single new atom of reactive nitrogen can bounce its way around these widespread environments, like a felon on a crime spree,” said University of Colorado ecology and evolutionary biology Professor Alan Townsend, one of the event co-organizers. “The assessment can tell us where and how to reduce its release, and learn where the hotspots are.”
Some of those hotspots are in high alpine ecosystems of northern Colorado’s mountains, where researcher Jill Baron has been monitoring nitrogen levels in lakes for years. In some cases, the increased nitrogen is feeding blooms of algae, to the detriment of overall aquatic health. Continue reading
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