Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Nitrogen has key role in estimating carbon dioxide emissions from land use change

Date:
April 19, 2013
Source:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
A new global-scale modeling study that takes into account nitrogen -- a key nutrient for plants -- estimates that carbon emissions from human activities on land were 40 percent higher in the 1990s than in studies that did not account for nitrogen. Plant regrowth -- and therefore carbon assimilation by plants -- is limited by nitrogen availability, causing other studies to overestimate regrowth and underestimate net emissions from the harvest-regrowth cycle.

Atmospheric sciences professor Atul Jain led a group that studied the global effects of nitrogen on carbon dioxide emissions from land use change, such as deforestation to expand cropland.
Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

A new global-scale modeling study that takes into account nitrogen -- a key nutrient for plants -- estimates that carbon emissions from human activities on land were 40 percent higher in the 1990s than in studies that did not account for nitrogen.

Related Articles


Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Bristol Cabot Institute published their findings in the journal Global Change Biology. The findings will be a part of the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "One nutrient can make a huge impact on the carbon cycle and net emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide," said study leader Atul Jain, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the U. of I. "We know that climate is changing, but the question is how much? To understand that, we have to understand interactive feedback processes -- the interactions of climate with the land, but also interactions between nutrients within the land."

The carbon cycle is a balance of carbon emissions into the atmosphere and absorption by oceans and terrestrial ecosystems. Carbon is absorbed by plants during photosynthesis and by the oceans through sea-air gas exchange. On the other side of the cycle, carbon is released by burning fossil fuels and by changes in land use -- deforestation to expand croplands, for example. While fossil fuel emissions are well-known, there are large uncertainties in estimated emissions from land use change.

"When humans disturb the land, the carbon stored in the plants and the soil goes back into the atmosphere," Jain said. "But when plants regrow, they absorb carbon through photosynthesis. Absorption or release of carbon can be enhanced or dampened depending on environmental conditions, such as climate and nutrient availability."

Nitrogen is an essential mineral nutrient for plants, which means that plants need it to grow and thrive. In nontropical regions especially, plant regrowth -- and therefore carbon assimilation by plants -- is limited by nitrogen availability.

"Most models used to estimate global land use change emissions to date do not have the capability to model this nitrogen limitation on plant regrowth following land use change," said Prasanth Meiyappan, a graduate student who is a co-author of the study. "This means, for example, they overestimate regrowth and they underestimate net emissions from the harvest-regrowth cycle in temperate forest plantations."

Jain's team, in collaboration with Joanna House, a researcher at the University of Bristol's Cabot Institute, concluded that by not accounting for nitrogen as a limiting nutrient for plant growth, other models might have underestimated the 1990s carbon emissions from land use change by 70 percent in nontropical regions and by 40 percent globally.

"This gross underestimation has great implications for international policy," House said. "If emissions from land-use change are higher than we thought, or the land sink (regrowth) is more limited, then future emissions cuts would have to be deeper to meet the same mitigation targets." Next, the researchers are investigating the impacts of other nutrients, such as phosphorus, on the carbon cycle. They also are estimating the carbon stored in the soil, and how much is released or absorbed when the soil is perturbed.

"Soil has great potential to sequester carbon," Jain said. "The question is, how much that's being released is being sequestered in the soil? We have to understand how human behavior is changing our environment and interacting with our ecosystems."

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy and the UK Leverhulme Trust supported this work.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Atul K. Jain, Prasanth Meiyappan, Yang Song, Joanna I. House. CO2emissions from land-use change affected more by nitrogen cycle, than by the choice of land-cover data. Global Change Biology, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12207

Cite This Page:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Nitrogen has key role in estimating carbon dioxide emissions from land use change." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130419160710.htm>.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2013, April 19). Nitrogen has key role in estimating carbon dioxide emissions from land use change. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130419160710.htm
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Nitrogen has key role in estimating carbon dioxide emissions from land use change." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130419160710.htm (accessed December 19, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Lava on Track to Hit Hawaii Market

Raw: Lava on Track to Hit Hawaii Market

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) Lava from an active volcano on Hawaii's Big Island slowed slightly but stayed on track to hit a shopping center in the small town of Pahoa. (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Arctic Warming Twice As Fast As Rest Of Planet

Arctic Warming Twice As Fast As Rest Of Planet

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, thanks in part to something called feedback. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) Harvard researchers found children whose mothers were exposed to high pollution levels in the third trimester were twice as likely to develop autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins