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Nitrate Build Up from Soils to the Sea

PhD student Phil Taylor, researching nitrates in Costa Rica, describes the findings presented in his 2010 Nature paper with Alan Townsend.

The creation of nitrogen fertilizers have greatly benefited humans by increasing crop yields and ensuring food security in many areas of the world. While some places need more fertilizer, like much of sub-Sahara Africa, many places are rife with nitrogen. The overabundance of nitrogen, particularly nitrates, creates a host of environmental problems, including dead zone formation, elevation of infectious disease, drive harmful algal blooms, enhance greenhouse gas emissions, among other negative consequences.

The challenge ahead is maximize the obvious benefits while minimizing the damaging effects of nitrogen use. Phil briefly describes findings presented in his paper published in the journal Nature (Stoichiometric control of organic carbon-nitrate relationships from soils to the sea, vol. 464, April 22, 2010) that explains how nitrate accumulates from soils to the seas across Earth's biomes. Our findings represent a new framework to understand the fate of nitrate in ecosystems worldwide, which could help management strategies targeting nitrogen pollution. Visit and for more information on nitrogen related issues.

p.s. See Phil's original use of a 3-ring binder—as whiteboard!