How much does that fertilizer REALLY cost?

October 6, 2016
To adequately account for the cost of nitrogen pollution, researchers from the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment have proposed a framework that accounts for all of the damages that occur when reactive nitrogen enters our air or water. Credit: Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota

Humans have more than doubled the amount of reactive nitrogen in the environment since the Industrial Revolution, with adverse consequences that include air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, ozone depletion, water acidification and climate change.

But what exactly do these impacts mean for people and communities, and how can we can figure out where and how much to most effectively reduce the amount of new entering the environment?

To adequately account for the cost of , researchers from the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment have proposed a framework that accounts for all of the damages that occur when reactive nitrogen enters our air or water. The framework, published today in the journal Science Advances, provides a valuable tool for estimating the social cost of nitrogen pollution—meaning the dollars-and-cents cost of the trouble it causes—elevating nitrogen accounting to the same level governments now use to account for carbon.

"Scientists and economists have figured out ways to put a price on carbon pollution. Getting a handle on the societal costs of means those costs can be integrated into decisions by agencies and other groups," said study author Bonnie Keeler, IonE program director and lead scientist with the Natural Capital Project, a partnership of the University of Minnesota, Stanford University, The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund. "We currently don't have a handle on the costs of nitrogen and as a result the damages caused by nitrogen are not incorporated into decisions."

Tracking nitrogen is tricky because the element takes multiple forms and ends up in diverse places on the landscape—with correspondingly diverse costs. To demonstrate how nitrogen costs can be tracked, the researchers developed a simplified model and applied it to nitrogen fertilizer management in Minnesota. They used data on where and how much nitrogen is applied to cropland, then used the model to track how nitrogen would move into surface and groundwater and the atmosphere, and from there, who it would affect and how much.

"Our work shows that it is possible to get a better handle on the costs of nitrogen and show where investments in mitigating damages from are most likely to benefit communities," said Keeler. "Ultimately, I'd like to see agencies start incorporating the damage costs of nitrogen into payment schemes, conservation programs, commodity prices or new regulations, just like we are starting to do for carbon. In the meantime we're getting a lot closer to closing the loop on nitrogen impacts."

The University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment is leading the way toward a future in which people and the environment prosper together. For more information, visit environment.umn.edu.

Explore further: Nitrogen is a neglected threat to biodiversity

More information: B. L. Keeler et al, The social costs of nitrogen, Science Advances (2016). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600219

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17 comments

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gkam
1.6 / 5 (13) Oct 06, 2016
Look up the old article "The Nitrogen Bomb", from either Scientific American or another.

The rush to shortcuts must be tempered with rationality.
optical
Oct 06, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
gkam
1.4 / 5 (10) Oct 06, 2016
The article discusses the environmental costs.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Oct 06, 2016
"We currently don't have a handle on the costs of nitrogen and as a result the damages caused by nitrogen are not incorporated into decisions."


That means we currently don't have a handle on the cost of carbon either, because the unknown contribution of nitrogen (and others) to climate change are all blamed on CO2 to explain the currently observed effects and project the future.

It's the classic streelight effect from the old joke, where the policeman asks the drunkard "Are you sure you lost your keys here?" and the drunk answers, "No, but there's plenty of light to search here under this lamp."

TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (8) Oct 06, 2016
Look up the old article "The Nitrogen Bomb", from either Scientific American or another.
Too busy to look it up for us george? Or you just enjoy making up phony articles to bolster your lies and made-up facts?
geokstr
1 / 5 (5) Oct 07, 2016
Look up the old article "The Nitrogen Bomb", from either Scientific American or another.
Too busy to look it up for us george? Or you just enjoy making up phony articles to bolster your lies and made-up facts?

Otto, it took approx 3 seconds to copy/paste "The Nitrogen Bomb" into google to learn at least that this is not a "phony article". It appeared in Discover Magazine in 2001.

Now, it's a typical Chicken Little apocalytic like anything published about AGW, so I'm not saying I put any stock in it.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.9 / 5 (7) Oct 07, 2016
So george kamburoff got you to play fetch for him? Good doggie.
gkam
1.4 / 5 (10) Oct 07, 2016
geokstr and I have differences, but he has the character "otto" lacks.

Perhaps he is real, and not just an anonymous sniper.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.1 / 5 (9) Oct 07, 2016
Perhaps he is real, and not just an anonymous sniper
Perhaps he is not a lying psychopath hiding behind a phony degree and a made-up work experience. And no education. And stolen valor. And a head full of pot.
MarsBars
2 / 5 (12) Oct 09, 2016
Otto's Ghost: you are chock-a-block full of the angry pills, aren't you? Like @geokstr I entered "Nitrogen Bomb" into Google to satisfy my curiosity, and in very little time found that your alleged "phony article" was published in the April 2001 issue of Discover magazine.

Being a relative newbie to phys.org, I have little familiarity with the commenting history between yourself and other subscribers such as gkam. Do you refer to everyone whose opinions you don't agree with as a "lying psychopath" or a dog?
rrrander
1 / 5 (2) Oct 09, 2016
More anti-human nonsense from the greenie cult that wants to eliminate humans from Earth. Eliminating fertilizer or jacking up the cost of food would accomplish that.
gkam
1 / 5 (9) Oct 09, 2016
Marsbars, I am George Kamburoff, one of the posters who identifies himself as a real person. Many here are here for games, and admit it. "otto" is one who has admitted he is here for games using variations of the name otto which refers to some old Nazi.

Apparently he thinks others here are of the same bent, and when I related some pertinent experience here, he started screaming "LIAR!" and others too nasty to repeat.

Others here are for making personal comments, thinking they are some Wise Cajun, sniping at others. None of the nasty snipers admit who they are.

Just "report" these offenders, and maybe they will eventually go away.

Thank you for coming into the forum.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (6) Oct 11, 2016
Hello noob,
Being a relative newbie to phys.org, I have little familiarity with the commenting history between yourself and other subscribers such as gkam. Do you refer to everyone whose opinions you don't agree with as a "lying psychopath" or a dog?
1) Lying cheating psychopaths exist in this world. 2) George kamburoff is a stellar example. 3) lying cheating psychopaths are a danger to the world. 4) george has graciously presented himself here for educating the general public by allowing us to poke and prod him as needed.

And yes, you are a noob who has no idea how many people have spent 100s of posts attacking and exposing this first class sicko.

You can 1) do a site search and learn, or 2) get sucked into his psychopathy which will make him very happy. As happy as emotionless evil atomatons can get that is.

Your choice.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.9 / 5 (7) Oct 11, 2016
"Psychopaths view any social exchange as a "feeding opportunity," a contest or a test of wills in which there can be only one winner. Their motives are to manipulate and take, ruthlessly and without remorse. [Hare]

"One psychopath interviewed by Hare's team said quite frankly: "The first thing I do is I size you up. I look for an angle, an edge, figure out what you need and give it to you. Then it's pay-back time, with interest. I tighten the screws."

-KInd of fascinating really.

You ticklish george? Bet you cant feel that either.
Marsbars, I am George Kamburoff, one of the posters who identifies himself as a real person
"A woman with a staggering record of fraud, deceit, lies, and broken promises concluded a letter to the parole board with, "I've let a lot of people down… One is only as good as her reputation and name. My word is as good as gold."

haha I never get tired of posting that one.
rrrander
1 / 5 (4) Oct 16, 2016
Western politicians who foist these false costs onto the middle class, further driving down their living standards while turning a blind eye to the massive pollution being produced in China and the Third World, should be hanged.
gkam
1.9 / 5 (9) Oct 16, 2016
rrander, . . really? Are you going to hang them yourself?

Or is that just some silly hyperbole?

Ain't no false costs, they are real savings, although you do not want to admit it.

Political prejudice is a character contaminant.
gkam
1 / 5 (7) Oct 16, 2016
I mean contaminant.

Some folk have no sense of tomorrow, or appreciation for who follows us.

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