Earth Gauge Tip of the Week — What’s Your Nitrogen Footprint?

Reader Contribution by Earth Gauge
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What is a nitrogen footprint and why is it so important?  Well, just like a carbon footprint, a nitrogen footprint approximates how much nitrogen your daily activities produce over a period of time.  Nitrogen is important because it builds our DNA, amino acids and proteins that grow the tissues of all living things.  Farmers use nitrogen-based fertilizers to grow their crops and feed the world’s population.  However, like most things in life, too much of anything can cause problems – when too much nitrogen enters our waterways, it can actually hurt the very ecosystems that depend on it in the first place.  In water, excess nitrogen often produces harmful algal blooms or “red tides” that degrade water quality, food resources and habitats, produce toxins harmful to humans and wildlife and decrease the

oxygen that fish and other aquatic animals need to survive.  Storm water runoff from farms, backyards and city streets all contribute to the problem of excess nutrients, so calculating your own contribution – that is, your nitrogen footprint – is the first step towards solving the problem!

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(Sources: Leach, A.M et al. (2012). “A nitrogen footprint model to help consumers understand their role in nitrogen losses to the environment.”  Environmental Development, 1:1, 40-66; Jensen, Lars Stoumann and Jan K. Schjoerring (2011).  “Benefits of nitrogen for food, fiber, and industrial production.” In: The European Nitrogen Assessment: Sources, Effects and Policy Perspectives.  Cambridge University Press, London.)

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