Extensive rainfall and erratic weather conditions is shouldering the responsibility of nitrogen pollution, contaminating rivers and streams. At the core remains a critical anthropogenic factor- usage of nitrogen fertilizers in agriculture. This calls for restructuring agriculture and devising an alternate method to improve soil fertility.
Harnessing the detrimental impact of nitrogen fertilizers is a mandate, considering, taming the causes and effects of global warming is an unfathomable challenge- though worth trying!
Unveiling the Scenario
A lesson well learnt- ‘our comfort is increasingly taking a toll on our well being’. Be it reckless carbon emissions from automobile and industrial exhausts or fossil fuels as well as the nitrogen in soil seem to disturb the ecological balance in the most shocking way.
Research manifests, nitrogen run offs are polluting over 20% of river basins owing to intensive agriculture activities as well as rising population. Rainstorms are being considered responsible for washing away or leaching of nitrogen deposits from fields and farms.
Moreover, with the passing days, the multiplication in the causes and effects of global warming would inevitably lead to weather extremities and unforeseen precipitation patterns. As a consequence, more nitrogen is expected to get flushed with every downpour. This nitrogen joins the water-streams enhancing its toxicity, fueling blue-green algae bloom.
Potential of the Slayer
The harmful health impacts of algal bloom are not unforeseen. Algal toxin is known to have caused death to 76 dialysis patients due to liver damage in Brazil around 1996. In China, children suffered the same after consuming toxic water from Three Gorges Reservoir layered with blue-green algae. In both China and US, drinking water reserves affected by algae was restrained from being supplied to residents, leaving them temporarily bereft of water supply.
Nitrogen deposition on land due to farming and livestock activities, power plant and road traffic exhausts, unusually makes soil more fertile. This attribute replaces plant species suited to less fertile soil that is nutrition deficient. Researchers are anticipating major shift in plant diversity in areas that have been tested for excess nitrogen content, which has already been the case in California.
The best recovery measures can be adapted by farm owners. They are increasingly becoming aware of their responsibility to pay the price of their relentless activity to the sufferers whose basics- like drinking water is facing adulteration. Farmers themselves have been jeopardized by weather fluctuations and nitrogen run offs in their fields which is contaminating their surface reserves that invariably will take a toll on their crops.
In order to mitigate the nitrogen problem, researchers have suggested the use of cover crops that can bring about a change of over 60% in the scenario. Applying fertilizers have to be restricted to a particular season- during spring. Use of sensors to detect the weaker zones, serve in maintaining a parity in application.
This encourages resistance during flooding or drought. But, in case of rented land, farmers are discouraged to invest any sum on improving soil health. So, only a handful of them subscribe to cover crops.
The Hazard Looms Large
Aquatic ecologists were already demanding urgent clean up mechanisms of lakes and water-bodies in order to do away with phosphorus pollution till they were faced by the menace of algal blooms caused due to nitrogen pollution. Water management from the supply source might not be successful in yielding results in future due to the changing hydrological dynamics, nutrient fluctuations as well as stratification.
A few optimists seem to invest their faith in genetically modified crops and lab meat which require bare minimum nitrogen for sufficient growth. But, sadly genetic engineering entails a host of other harmful side-effects that might further intensify the situation.
At the edge of peril is Asia, owing to its heavy dependence on surface water consumption by a rapidly growing population.