The Nitrogen Oxide Focus Group's research programme could potentially lead to mechanisms to alter or modify soil management, and thus reduce the level of N2O emissions leading to climate change effects. The ability to address such a fundamental source of emissions that affects many sectors - agriculture, the production of food, bio-fuels, natural fibres and natural products - will have a far-reaching impact on the level of N2O emitted and go a very long way to reducing the impact of this greenhouse gas on climate change.
Agriculture sector, including fertiliser producers:
Developing modelling tools that will lead to improved soil management should reduce N2O emissions
Reduction in N2O emissions during food production will bestow and enhance the 'green' credentials of the food.
Transport and fuel:
N2O emissions occur as a result of fuel combustion and additives, but in Transport and fuel sectors account for only 1% of total N2O as compared with 70% from the agricultural sector. Supporting research to reduce the level of N2O arising from the agricultural sector means that:
- the efforts required for the transport/fuel sector to address N2O should be reduced
the greenhouse gas footprint of any bio- fuel used may be inherently reduced
Waste Management industry:
N2O may be generated during denitrification of the nitrogen present in domestic human sewage:
- The protection of surface waters through improved sewage treatment
- The recovery and recycling of phosphates from waste water sources
Treatment of eutrophication, the over-enrichment of water with excess nutrients from sources including agricultural fertilizer run-off and sewage disposal resulting in algal blooms and reduced oxygen levels in water
Environmental (or Conservation) Management:
The intensification of agricultural production through the application of nitrogen fertilisers has contaminated freshwaters to such an extent that integrated approaches are now being developed to limit the polluting effects on drinking water and the eutrophication of aquatic ecosystems. Innovative solutions include:
- combined land management practices (e.g. planting cover crops and minimum tillage)
- land conversion to less intensive uses (e.g. grassland, woodland and reconstructed wetlands)
These environmental and conservation measures have the potential to generate N2O in chemically reducing environments such as riparian buffer zones, reconstructed wetlands and coastal salt marshes and it is this pollution ‘swapping' of nitrate for N2O that needs further research into how land management practices may affect N2O emissions.
The role of N2O in forcing climate change depends on knowledge of natural and anthropogenic sources of this greenhouse gas as well as production and consumption mechanisms within the atmosphere, oceans and terrestrial freshwater components of the Earth System. At global scales, high N2O concentrations are observed in ocean environments in eastern, upwelling basins where oxygen is limited, and such a situation can also be expected in coastal waters receiving nitrogen-rich fluvial inputs, for example in the Mississippi delta region of the Gulf of Mexico. Further research into the fluxes of N2O within the Earth System is therefore important to us in our understanding of the role of N2O in climate change.