On Thursday, Oct. 4, the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences will sponsor a free public lecture on the excess nitrogen issue.
Otto Doering, a Purdue University agricultural economist who chaired the committee of scientists that wrote a 2011 report to the EPA’s Science Advisory Committee, will deliver the lecture. His talk is titled "Excess nitrogen: A Confounding Problem for Energy Use, Food Production, the Water We Drink and the Air We Breathe."
The Freshwater Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring people to value, conserve and protect water resources. Located in Excelsior, it has a long history of association with the University of Minnesota.
Nitrogen makes up three-fourths of the air around us. It is an essential part of all the proteins in our bodies and in all living organisms.
Food production—the vast gains achieved over the last century, and the still-greater gains needed to feed a growing world population—is dependent on the availability of nitrogen in a chemical form that food grains and other plants can readily use.
Instead of two nitrogen atoms bound together as they are in air, plants need nitrogen in which a single atom is available to bond with other elements.
Paradoxically, the synthetic manufacture and application of that plant-usable, single-atom nitrogen, the increased cultivation of soybeans and other legume plants that capture nitrogen from the air and the release of nitrogen from fossil fuels cause serious environmental problems.
A 2011 report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said:
“Excess reactive nitrogen compounds in the environment are associated with many large-scale environmental concerns, including eutrophication of surface waters, toxic algae blooms, hypoxia, acid rain…and global warming. In addition, reactive nitrogen is associated with harmful human health effects caused by air pollution and drinking water contamination.”
The National Academy of Engineering called the proliferation of chemically reactive nitrogen one of the “grand challenges” facing scientists and policy-makers in the 21st Century.
The lecture will be at 7 p.m. in the Student Center theater on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus.
Doering will discuss the difficult choices facing scientists and policy-makers as they seek to maintain the benefits that human-created nitrogen provides while limiting its environmental damage.
The nitrogen committee concluded that, as a first step, policy-makers should pursue agricultural and industrial efficiency measures that the committee said would allow crop production to increase while reducing the escape of excess nitrogen into the environment by 25 percent.
The lecture is the ninth in the Moos Family Speaker Series on Water Resources honoring the late Malcolm Moos, president of the university from 1967 to 1974.