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The Nitrogen Cycle
The Nitrogen Cycle. Figure illustrates the nitrogen cycle on, above, and below the Earth's surface. Source: Physical Geography Fundamentals eBook .

Human interactions with the nitrogen cycle

Humans are primarily dependent on the nitrogen cycle as a supporting ecosystem service for crop and forest productivity. Nitrogen fertilizers are added to enhance the growth of many crops and plantations. The enhanced use of fertilizers in agriculture was a key feature of the green revolution that boosted global crop yields in the 1970s. The industrial production of nitrogen-rich fertilizers has increased substantially over time and now matches more than half of the input to the land from biological nitrogen fixation (90 MtN each year). If the nitrogen fixation from leguminous crops (e.g. beans, alfalfa) is included, then the anthropogenic flux of nitrogen from the atmosphere to the land exceeds natural fluxes to the land. As described above, most ecosystems naturally retain and recycle almost all of their nitrogen. The relatively little nitrogen that is being gained or lost by fluxes to the atmosphere and water cycle is also nearly being balanced. When humans make large additions of nitrogen to ecosystems leakage often results, with negative environmental consequences. When the amount of nitrate in the soil exceeds plant uptake, the excess nitrate is either leached in drainage water to streams, rivers, and the ocean or denitrified by bacteria and lost to the atmosphere. One of the main gases produced by denitrifying bacteria (nitrous oxide) is an important greenhouse gas that is contributing to human-induced global warming. Other gases released to the atmosphere by denitrifying bacteria, as well as ammonia released from livestock and sewage sludge, are later deposited from the atmosphere onto ecosystems. The additional nitrogen from this deposition, along with the nitrogen leaching into waterways, causes eutrophication. Eutrophication occurs when plant growth and then decay is accelerated by an unusually high supply of nitrogen, and it has knock-on effects, including the following: certain plant species out-competing other species, leading to biodiversity loss and altered ecosystem function; algal blooms that block light and therefore kill aquatic plants in rivers, lakes, and seas; exhaustion of oxygen supplies in water caused by rapid microbial decomposition at the end of algal blooms, which kills many aquatic organisms. Excess nitrates in water supplies have also been linked to human health problems. Efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution focus on increasing the efficiency of synthetic fertilizer use, altering feeding of animals to reduce nitrogen content in their excreta, and better processing of livestock waste and sewage sludge to reduce ammonia release. At the same time, increasing demand for food production from a growing global population with a greater appetite for meat is driving greater total fertilizer use, so there is no guarantee that better practices will lead to a reduction in the overall amount of nitrogen pollution.

Review questions

There is approximately 2,000 cubic kilometers of water stored in rivers around the world. Using the terms  water cycle flux  and  pool , describe under what conditions removing 1000 cubic kilometers per year from rivers for human use could be sustainable.

Each year, around a quarter of the carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere is turned into plant matter via photosynthesis. Does this mean that, in the absence of human activity, all carbon dioxide would be removed from the atmosphere in around four years? Explain your answer.

The water, carbon, and nitrogen cycles are all influenced by human activity. Can you describe a human activity that impacts all three cycles? In your example, which of the cycles is most significantly altered?


Le Quere, C., Raupach, M. R., Canadell, J. G., Marland, G., Bopp, L., Ciais, P., et al. (2009, December). Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide. Nature Geoscience, 2 , 831-836. doi: 10.1038/ngeo689

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005). Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis. Washington DC. Retrieved from (External Link)

Questions & Answers

Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
Damian Reply
what king of growth are you checking .?
What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
what school?
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
sciencedirect big data base
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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