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Declining Nitrogen Levels in Nitrogen Rich World


Nitrogen cycle UPSC: Relevance

  • GS 3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.


Declining Nitrogen Levels: Context

  • According to a recently published report, an imbalance in nitrogen availability has been reported across the globe, thus hurting many aquatic and terrestrial life.


Declining Nitrogen Levels: Key points

  • While some places have an excess of nitrogen, others have witnessed a shortage of the element.
  • The issue of declining nitrogen availability, however, is not new and it has been on the scientific radar for a long time.
  • Nitrogen availability has been shrinking in grasslands in central North America for a hundred years.
  • Due to this reason, cattle grazing these areas have had less protein in their diets over time.
  • Many forests in North America and Europe have also suffered from nutritional declines for several decades or longer due to the same reason.
  • Experts have also said that tropical and boreal forests may be particularly vulnerable.


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Reasons of low nitrogen level

  • Plants grow quickly when exposed to high carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations. Thus, their demand for nitrogen also goes up.
  • High CO2 levels dilute plant nitrogen, triggering a cascade of effects that lower the availability of nitrogen.
  • Other factors include: warming and disturbances, including wildfire.


Impact of low nitrogen level

  • Nitrogen is an essential nutrient. Without nitrogen, plants grow slowly and produce smaller flowers and fruits.
  • Also, in the absence of nitrogen, the leaves of plants turn yellowish and are less nutritious to insects, birds and animals.
  • Plants with low nitrogen levels can also encourage swarming in some species of locusts.
  • Low nitrogen availability could limit plants’ ability to capture Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


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Impact of higher nitrogen production

  • Human production of nitrogen is now five times higher than it was 60 years ago.
  • Excessive nitrogen accumulates in the streams, inland lakes and coastal bodies of water. It could sometimes result in eutrophication, leading to harmful alsgal blooms, dead zones and fish kills.
  • In humans, high levels of nitrogen in the groundwater are linked to intestinal cancers and miscarriages and can be fatal for infants.


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