Escaped nitrogen from agricultural production has "huge potential to contribute to climate change," according to the director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis, Tom Tomich. He was quoted in "The Smog Blog," written by Mark Grossi of the Fresno Bee, in a post about $2.8 million in grant funding ASI received to research agricultural nitrogen. The story appeared in his blog last week and on the front page of the newspaper's Local News section yesterday.
According to an ASI news release announcing the new funding, many people, including politicians. are unaware that escaped nitrogen from agricultural production affects climate change and air, water and soil quality.
Earth's atmosphere is 78 percent nitrogen by volume, according to the Wikipedia entry on the chemical element. And in fact, "Mike D." commented on Grossi's blog posting, "I'm a bit confused as to how nitrogen could be a greenhouse gas when it already exists in abundance in the atmosphere."
This confusion perhaps underscores the need for more research and extension efforts on the topic. According to the ASI news release, data on agricultural nitrogen pollution are limited, and some nitrogen pollution forms are difficult to monitor. Measurements can be labor-intensive and expensive and are influenced by variables such as weather conditions, irrigation timing and method, and crop-specific fertilization practices.
I trust that, as the ASI's research is conducted and results are publicized, much more information about the role of agricultural nitrogen in global warming will become widely available.