What Is It?
Nutrient loading is when nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer gets into the soil and water and affect various ecosystems. Excess nitrogen also gets into the atmosphere from the manufacturing of fertilizer and fossil fuel combustion. This is a concern to biodiversity because the excess nitrogen can destroy or boost the growth of nitrogen sensitive plants which throws ecosystems out of balance.
While too much nitrogen is harmful, nitrogen exists in every living thing on earth. In fact, 78% of earth’s atmosphere is made of nitrogen. It is also found in water and soil in the form of nitrates and nitrites.
What are the Causes and Effects of Nutrient Loading?
There has been a great jump within the production of reactive nitrogen since 1960.
Since the human population has grown very rapidly in the past 100 years, we need more food and fiber. Therefore, farmers need to use more fertilizer so their plants can grow faster and stronger. Since nitrogen is one of main ingredients in fertilizer, it gets absorbed into the soil and when it rains soluble nitrogen washes into storm drains, lakes, rivers, etc. Other sources of nitrogen in the environment include manure and guano (waste of seabirds).
The effects of excess nitrogen are the overgrowth of plants that thrive in nitrogen rich areas. For example, in Wisconsin there are huge increases in algae populations in the lakes across Wisconsin due to the increase in nitrogen. Also, some plants that thrive in nitrogen poor areas are getting wiped out from the extra nitrogen.
Where is it Happening?
It is happening to ecosystems all over the globe, including temperate grasslands. They are some of the areas most threatened by excess nitrogen.
How Can You Help?
You can help by telling your parents and neighbors about this problem. Tell them that they should use fertilizers that do not contain nitrogen. That way, when it rains there won’t be any nitrogen to run into the water supply.