World phosphorous use crosses critical threshold

Feb 14, 2011 by Terry Devitt

(PhysOrg.com) -- Recalculating the global use of phosphorous, a fertilizer linchpin of modern agriculture, a team of researchers warns that the world's stocks may soon be in short supply and that overuse in the industrialized world has become a leading cause of the pollution of lakes, rivers and streams.

Writing in the Feb. 14 edition of the journal Environmental Research Letters, Stephen Carpenter of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Elena Bennett of McGill University report that the human use of , primarily in the industrialized world, is causing the widespread eutrophication of fresh surface water. What's more, the minable global stocks of phosphorous are concentrated in just a few countries and are in decline, posing the risk of global shortages within the next 20 years.

"There is a finite amount of phosphorous in the world," says Carpenter, a UW-Madison professor of limnology and one of the world's leading authorities on lakes and streams. "This is a material that's becoming more rare and we need to use it more efficiently."

Phosphorous is an essential element for life. Living organisms, including humans, have small amounts and the element is crucial for driving the energetic processes of cells. In agriculture, phosphorous mined from ancient marine deposits is widely used to boost . The element also has other industrial uses.

But excess phosphorous from fertilizer that washes from farm fields and suburban lawns into lakes and streams is the primary cause of the algae blooms that throw freshwater ecosystems out of kilter and degrade water quality. Phosphorous pollution poses a risk to fish and other as well as to the animals and humans who depend on clean fresh water. In some instances, excess phosphorous sparks blooms of , which pose a direct threat to human and animal life.

"If you have too much phosphorous, you get eutrophication," explains Carpenter of the cycle of excessive plant and algae growth that significantly degrades bodies of fresh water. "Phosphorous stimulates the growth of algae and weeds near shore and some of the algae can contain cyanobacteria, which are toxic. You lose fish. You lose water quality for drinking."

The fertilizer-fueled themselves amplify the problem as the algae die and release accumulated phosphorous back into the water.

Carpenter and Bennett write in their Environmental Research Letters report that the "planetary boundary for freshwater eutrophication has been crossed while potential boundaries for ocean anoxic events and depletion of phosphate rock reserves loom in the future."

Complicating the problem, says Carpenter, is the fact that excess phosphorous in the environment is a problem primarily in the industrialized world, mainly Europe, North America and parts of Asia. In other parts of the world, notably Africa and Australia, soils are phosphorous poor, creating a stark imbalance. Ironically, soils in places like North America, where fertilizers with phosphorous are most commonly applied, are already loaded with the element.

"Some soils have plenty of phosphorous, and some soils do not and you need to add phosphorous to grow crops on them," Carpenter notes. "It's this patchiness that makes the problem tricky."

Bennett and Carpenter argue that agricultural practices to better conserve phosphate within agricultural ecosystems are necessary to avert the widespread pollution of surface waters. Phosphorous from parts of the world where the element is abundant, they say, can be moved to phosphorous deficient regions of the world by extracting phosphorous from manure, for example, using manure digesters.

Deposits of phosphate, the form of the element that is mined for agriculture and other purposes, take many millions of years to form. The nations with the largest reserves of the element are the United States, China and Morocco.

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Caliban
2.8 / 5 (5) Feb 14, 2011
All the more reason to begin large-scale desalination of seawater, concurrent with separation/extraction of dissolved chemical elements.
kaasinees
3.1 / 5 (9) Feb 14, 2011
Answer: start using biochar no need for phosphours.
stealthc
1.6 / 5 (18) Feb 14, 2011
this is what they were wanting to happen, so a bunch of us can starve to death from an inability to keep food for long enough, and an inability to grow it. The rothschild dynasty strikes against humanity once again. Guess who runs the businesses who make phosphor fertilizer?
Burnerjack
3.8 / 5 (4) Feb 14, 2011
The root problem is using population growth as an economic tool and a political weapon.
Without excessive population, as well as unbridled growth, less food supply is required.
Outlining the problem, as usual, is the easiest part of the equation. Its that "solve for X". There in lies the rub....
With the medical industry providing for longer lifespans, there should be an equal decrease in growth to provide the balance.
I suspect a byproduct of ongoing medical advances is the increase in the fragility of our species. If this is so, I suspect the resulting pandemics will restore balance.
geokstr
1.3 / 5 (16) Feb 14, 2011
Right. A new "peak" whatever, like peak oil.

Every prediction of doom for scarcity of resources has proven to be totally off base, with each new decade showing exponential growth of proven reserves, let alone potential ones.
Eikka
2.8 / 5 (6) Feb 14, 2011

Without excessive population, as well as unbridled growth, less food supply is required.


I love the argument of "If we just used less of it, all the problems would vanish". It's still not sustainable, problem isn't solved, doomsday is delayed by kill... ahem, controlling the population size until the eventuality catches up.

The only way for a stable population is for the population itself to realize that it can't grow too much. If you keep the numbers low artifically, people will simply rebel because they see all these resources that nobody is using, that they could use and go "Why not me?"
kaasinees
2 / 5 (4) Feb 14, 2011
@Eikka

Well put and i completely agree.
That is why i gave the answer: biochar.
Pyrolesis is a sustainable process that is in harmony with our planets ecological process. (i will refrase myself from using the word Gaia hypothesis, i dont want to get downvoted just because of that)
I wont explain it in my post, just search on the net, there is plenty of usefull information.
Silverhill
5 / 5 (2) Feb 14, 2011
Not to distract from the major problem discussed here, but accuracy in science reporting requires a certain attention to detail. "Phosphorous" is an adjective; "phosphorus" is the noun that was meant. It's a (too-)common mistake, but it's easy to avoid if you're careful--as you should be.

(As the joke has it:
"Always proofread. You might have something out.")
Eikka
2 / 5 (2) Feb 14, 2011

That is why i gave the answer: biochar.


You're still going to see weakening of the soil in sustained farming, just over a longer period of time. Mixing in more char will eventually turn the "terra preta" into a bunch of black dust and not much else because you're constantly adding much more carbon than anything else. It only works up to a point.

You'll still have to figure out a sustainable source of fertilizers that you can toss back in there at the same rate as they're removed and washed away, without adding a whole lot of carbon every time you do so.

A more intelligent version would be to use ash, and even so you still have some runoff from the land.
kaasinees
2.8 / 5 (4) Feb 14, 2011
You are correct about a few parts. It could ruin the soil, but there is human intervention maintaining the soil to prevent it from happening, also this is just a theory and not proven yet. (The articles indeed say that it is not feasible in all areas)

I actually believe biochar can turn deserts into jungles. The carbon structures are ideal for holding minerals from rains, dieing animals etc. that otherwise would be wasted(no fertilizers needed its ecological process), then microbes start kicking in to create a stable ecological process within the soil. It might even be a key part in terraforming other planets in the far future.

Also they believe that in earths past millions of years ago, all plant life has burned, turned into a carbon ocean bed, when the earth stabilized again plants had oppertunity to grow and benefit from the microbes ecological process in the soil, supporting many new life forms.
jselin
5 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2011
All the more reason to begin large-scale desalination of seawater, concurrent with separation/extraction of dissolved chemical elements.


We need cheaper energy first to make the products of these plants (minerals and drinking water) priced competitively. This would also solve the suggested drinking water shortages. It all boils down to energy costs as I understand it.
nuge
4 / 5 (8) Feb 14, 2011
Right. A new "peak" whatever, like peak oil.

Every prediction of doom for scarcity of resources has proven to be totally off base, with each new decade showing exponential growth of proven reserves, let alone potential ones.


How short sighted. Even if what you say is true, if we don't take measures to recapture/recycle resources that we use we WILL eventually run out. This isn't being made up as some conspiracy, it is common sense which a child could understand.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (7) Feb 14, 2011
this is what they were wanting to happen, so a bunch of us can starve to death from an inability to keep food for long enough, and an inability to grow it. The rothschild dynasty strikes against humanity once again. Guess who runs the businesses who make phosphor fertilizer?


Listen, you neo-nazi piece of shit, a weak-minded wimp like yourself would not be considered fit for the master race, and they would bulldoze you into a mass grave with everyone else. You're the problem.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (23) Feb 14, 2011
Now now, blaming rothschilds for world-scale corruption is not being anti-semitic. They are a popular target of mainstream conspiracy theorists everywhere. Because of their power and how they attained it, as usual.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2011
Biochar doesn't replenish phosphorus. Biochar recycles existing phosphorus. We take the majority of phosphorus from the soil in our food, not the chaff behind.

Biochar is not a replacement for phosphorus additives.
Telekinetic
1.6 / 5 (7) Feb 14, 2011
Now now, blaming rothschilds for world-scale corruption is not being anti-semitic. They are a popular target of mainstream conspiracy theorists everywhere. Because of their power and how they attained it, as usual.


Of course it's anti-semitism, and to deny it is pure ignorance. The rise of global anti-semitism is happening now, and putrid revisionists tend to veil their hatred with references like "The Rothschilds", "who controls the media" and "the Illuminati", knowing that their fellow morons will understand what's meant. The fact is that as time passes, the conditions that led to the most horrific event in the history of humanity have returned, and on a website that supposedly caters to a higher intellect, I'm disgusted.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) Feb 14, 2011
Make phosphorous illegal, like heroin, and market forces will provide.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2011
Biochar doesn't replenish phosphorus. Biochar recycles existing phosphorus. We take the majority of phosphorus from the soil in our food, not the chaff behind.

Biochar is not a replacement for phosphorus additives.


Yeah and these phosphorus can come back by dieing animals, rain, microbes and better recycling of our wastes. Biochar will hold down these substances and concentrate them that would otherwise be washed away, cause the soil cant hold them alone.
Egleton
3.4 / 5 (5) Feb 14, 2011
We are yeast in a bottle.
We must break the bottle, or die in our own excrement.
Whoever colonizes L1 and L2 becomes the gate keeper to the ultimate prize.
The cosmos.
This is why we are doing geology in space.
But we have to do it stealthily.
We cannot tip off the opposition.
But all the opposition is doing it, so the stampede will begin.
I hope that the good guys win.
They always do.
Ask them.
Moebius
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 14, 2011
Right. A new "peak" whatever, like peak oil. Every prediction of doom for scarcity of resources has proven to be totally off base, with each new decade showing exponential growth of proven reserves, let alone potential ones.


People who think (I use the term loosely) like you are the reason why we are going downhill. This is just another in the long list of reasons why any partially sentient human would know there are already way too many people on this planet. Those predictions weren't wrong, they just got postponed a bit. That postponement is making things worse. It's allowing us to have more time to not face the problem, it's allowing idiot skeptics to spout more of their ignorant BS, it's allowing the population to grow larger while more people get on the tecnologic path and consume even more, more species are driven to the brink, clean water becomes scarcer, our energy problems don't have a solution except maybe long term, etc etc. It's so sad, we are still stupid monkeys
Moebius
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 14, 2011
We are yeast in a bottle....


That's good, I like the Petri dish analogy better. A bacterial colony in a Petri dish reproduces until either it uses all the resources or dies in its own waste. I can just imagine some of the bacteria talking:
"So how are the kids?"
"Great, just had number 576,783."
"Wow, I am wondering if maybe we should try and keep that down below 100,000."
"What for? Plenty of agar left"
"What are you doing with the diapers?"
"Well, they are getting a little expensive, they just put a surtax on them. Something about not much more room for landfills. Sounds like BS to me. Is it me or does this water taste funny?"
Pete83
not rated yet Feb 15, 2011
I'm surprised nobody here has mentioned "Zeitgeist - Moving Forward". Our current problems don't have anything to do with "the Rothschilds" or "the Illuminati", it's the current system which we live in that is causing all the problems. It's a SYSTEM fault.

Also if anybody tries to claim that the zeitgeist movement is anti-semetic, I would be happy to explain why that is ridiculous.
Sean_W
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2011
WOLF!!!!!
MarkyMark
3 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2011
@ Geokstra.

I think that people who 'think' ( as in repeat what some Fox guest scientist says) like that are a big part of the problem. I bet if your trusted sources told you suncream was a sterrilaty drug in disguise provided by the illuminati as a form of population controll you wouldnt question it !
Plankton333
not rated yet Feb 15, 2011
There is a widely available source of phosphorous for agriculture: seaweed. The use of marine plants to enrich soils goes back hundreds if not thousand years and is currently being undertaken by individuals and on small industrial scales. The Falkland Islanders are known by some as "kelpers" for just such a practice. There are some concerns about sustainability from harvesting wild seaweed but these are remedied by utilising deep ocean water to create a sustainable aquaculture. One such scheme is the Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System which also has the potential to meet some of the other "peak" problems our civilisation faces.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.9 / 5 (19) Feb 15, 2011
Of course it's anti-semitism, and to deny it is pure ignorance.
Well it's hard to know what went through stealthc's mind as he was commenting, but I can tell you that when I read about rothschilds in conspiracy stuff I think of this:
"It has been argued that during the 19th century, the family possessed by far the largest private fortune in the world, and by far the largest fortune in modern history."
-And of the way they secured that fortune through the napoleonic wars and of how it all seemed to be a very convenient setup. Etc.

I also think of how a small priesthood of kohannin and their levite tenders repeatedly got the people to do their dirty work for them by evoking Jehovah, and were able to butcher all who questioned their authority, and wonder if the same sort of thing isn't happening to us all today. And no I dont mean by Jews. Personally I think the israelis are being used just like the rest of us.
Cont.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (15) Feb 15, 2011
At any rate, bigotry is inevitable perhaps and needs to be countered, but the potential should not prevent us from asking questions and speculating. It is too easy to hide genuine abuses behind screams of 'holocaust' or 'for the children' or somesuch.
website that supposedly caters to a higher intellect, I'm disgusted.
All sorts of interesting highbrow discussing of sociopolitics and historicism could ensue from a comment like that.
rynox
not rated yet Feb 15, 2011
Right. A new "peak" whatever, like peak oil.

Every prediction of doom for scarcity of resources has proven to be totally off base, with each new decade showing exponential growth of proven reserves, let alone potential ones.


Oil is not an infinite energy source.

The world can not support an infinite population.

These are facts, not my opinion. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, and I'm really kind of 'whatevah' about all this stuff. But don't delude yourself into thinking our way of life is sustainable.
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (6) Feb 15, 2011
The sun is not an infinite energy source and therefore the earth is not infinite.

rynox
4 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2011
Touche. lol
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2011
The sun is not an infinite energy source and therefore the earth is not infinite.



But in theory the earth will live long enough so we can advance our technology to live in space or other planets. The sun will become colder after a long period but in the same time the earth will also be closer to the sun. So we have a pretty long time ahead.
The issue here is that we need a sustainable/(very efficient) economy.
ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (7) Feb 15, 2011
"Ausubel and Waggoner calculated that if the average productivity of the world’s farmers were raised to the current level of productivity of a corn farmer in Iowa, a world of 10 billion people could be fed an American diet on about half the farmland being used now. "
"“If consumers dematerialize their intensity of use of goods and technicians produce the goods with a lower intensity of impact, people can grow in numbers and affluence without a proportionally greater environmental impact.” As long as market-driven technological progress is allowed to proceed, taxing and hectoring people into increased material poverty is not necessary to protect the natural world. "
http:/reason.com/archives/2011/02/15/deconsumption-versus-demateria
Pete83
3 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2011
@ryggesogn - I agree with your cut-paste, up until the point where it states:

As long as market-driven technological progress is allowed to proceed


1 - Technological progress is not driven by the market, it progresses regardless of the market.
2 - The amount of land available for farming is reducing at a great rate each year, and this is due to the profit motive inherent within the market system.
3 - Poverty is only a problem in terms of increased per person waste, as the poor cannot afford to be efficient.

Until we move past the market system, I hold little hope for humanity's long term survival.
geokstr
1 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2011
...(eugenic drivel snipped)...tecnologic (SIC)...

So much for brilliant people who look forward to seeing the spelling errors of those they disagree with. (I know, it's an in-joke, of which you are the butt.)
...we are still stupid monkeys.

All but you, of course, the self proclaimed most magnificent and brilliant genius of genii.

Moebius, I'm laughing at the superior intellect.
geokstr
1.7 / 5 (6) Feb 17, 2011
Until we move past the market system, I hold little hope for humanity's long term survival.

And your replacement is...(crickets).

We've already tried the leftist versions ad nauseum, and only 100 million (and counting) poor bastards had to die because they didn't want to accept that the government could tell them how much they had to contribute and how little they would get to keep of what they earned.

This awful, evil, greedy capitalist system you hate so much is what has allowed the lifting of billions of people out of poverty where 99.99999% of the population had previously ground out a meager, short existence. It was not the government that did it.
Pete83
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 17, 2011
This awful, evil, greedy capitalist system you hate so much is what has allowed the lifting of billions of people out of poverty where 99.99999% of the population had previously ground out a meager, short existence.


Completely false. It has been proven that technological development is not in any way coupled to market system.

Stop humping your big screen TV and wake up.
Beard
5 / 5 (1) Feb 19, 2011
We are adaptable and will engineer a solution if the need is pressing enough. What's most important is that we identify the problem accurately in the first place.
ryggesogn2
2.2 / 5 (6) Feb 19, 2011
It has been proven that technological development is not in any way coupled to market system.

By whom? Show the research.

The best example of modern technology development is the computer/gaming industry. It is quite market based and it is driving technological development quite hard.
Not long ago much technology was driven by govts for defense, but now, the defense industry depends upon the GPUs developed for gamers.
Market forces are now driving space technology and off course Howard Hughes fortune was made by market based technology in the oil industry.