Nitrous Oxide Emission Threatening the Climate - Seeker's Thoughts

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Nitrous Oxide Emission Threatening the Climate

 

Nitrous oxide is the least harmful, colorless, and odorless substance that’s also known as “laughing gas.” When inhaled, the gas slows down the body’s reaction time. It gives a calm and peaceful feeling.




It is usually used to treat pain. It is also used as a mild sedative. It’s sometimes used before the dental procedure to give relaxation and reduce anxiety to the patient.


Nitrous oxide is safe, but like any kind of drug, it may have side effects.


According to the new study published in the journal Nature, rising nitrous oxide increasing the climate threat. And jeopardizing the climate goals of the Paris climate change programme.


Study findings

The rapid use of nitrogen fertilizers in the production of food globally is drastically increasing the atmospheric concentration of Nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide that remains in the atmosphere for more than 100 years.



The findings show Nitrous Oxide emissions are increasing rapidly than emission scenario created by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), consistent with greenhouse gas scenario that leads to global mean temperature increase well above 3 degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement aims to limit warming to less than 2 degree Celsius but ideally no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.


According to the study, it’s an alarming trend affecting climate change- shockingly, nitrous oxide has risen 20% from pre-industrial levels – from 270 parts per billion in 1750 to 331 parts per billion in 2018—with the fastest growth observed in the 50 years due to emission from human activities.


The dominant primary cause of the increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide comes from agriculture and the growing demand for food and feed for animals will more increase global nitrous oxide emissions.



Like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide is a long-lived greenhouse gas and is also currently the most significant human-induced agent depleting the stratospheric ozone layer, which protects Earth from most of the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation.


This study presents the most comprehensive and detailed picture to date of nitrous oxide emissions and their impact on climate so far.


The research shows an extensive global nitrous oxide inventory that incorporates natural and human-related sources. It accounts for the interaction between nitrogen additions to the earth system and the biochemical processes that control nitrous oxide emissions. It covers 21 the natural and human-related sector between 1980 and 2016.


Humans are the primary reason for emission, which is dominated by nitrogen additions to cropland, increasing by 30% over the past four decades to 7.3 telegrams of nitrogen per year.


The analyses also reveal an emerging nitrous oxide climate feedback resulting from interactions between nitrogen additions to crops for food production and global warming, further enhancing emissions derived from agriculture.



Nitrous oxide and food production

In the food industries, nitrous oxide is a highly effective propellant for dispensing fatty liquids like heavy cream. To dispense whipped cream, nitrous gas is compressed into a liquid and mixed with heavy cream inside sealed, pressurized canister is released, the liquid nitrous instantly turns to gas, expanding the cream's volume four-fold.


Agriculture soils represent a vast and growing global source of nitrous oxide. Current estimates for annual emissions from this source range from 2 to about 4 million tonnes of nitrous oxide-N globally. With the rapid increase in population growth and the consequent need for more food production, both the area of agriculture soils and their use intensity are likely to continue to rise rapidly in the coming decades.


Indirect agriculture sources of nitrous oxide remain poorly defined in most cases. There are several ways in which such indirect emissions occur. The most important of these is nitrous oxide emission arising from nitrogen leaching and run-off from agriculture soils.


After fertilizer or heavy rain, large amounts of nitrogen may leach from the soil into drainage ditches, streams, rivers, and eventually estuaries. Some of the nitrous oxide produced in agricultural soils is lost in precisely this way, being emitted to the atmosphere as soon as the drainage water is exposed to the air.


Nitrous oxide is produced from such drainage waters when the leached nitrogen fertilizer they contain undergoes the processes of nitrification of denitrification in aquatic and estuarine sediments. Other important indirect nitrous oxide sources from agriculture soils include the volatilization and subsequent deposition of ammonia from fertilizer application and the consumption of crops followed by sewage treatment.



Places from where the emission is erupting?

According to the study, the largest contributors to global nitrous oxide emission come from East Asia, South Asia, Africa, and South America. Emission from synthetic fertilizers dominate releases in China, India, and the US, while emission from the application of livestock manure as fertilizer dominates release in Africa and South America.



The highest growth rates in emissions are in emerging economies, particularly Brazil, China, and India, where crop production and livestock numbers have increased.


Surprisingly nitrous oxide emission is decreased in agriculture and the chemistry industry. This was due to a combination of factors including measures to remove nitrous oxide from flue gases in the Nylon industry and the introduction of an emission trading scheme as well as agriculture in many western European countries moving to more efficient use of fertilizer to reduce environmental impacts such as pollution of groundwater and surface water. Policies on nitrogen fertilizer usage were also introduced.



A way forward

There is an urgent need to develop effective mitigation strategies to control this harmful emission, and there is a need to limit global warming and meet climate goals.

This new analysis calls for a full scale rethink in the ways we use and abuse nitrogen fertilizers globally and urges us to adopt more sustainable practices in the way we produce food, including the reduction of food waste.

These findings underscore the urgency and opportunities to mitigate nitrous oxide emissions globally to avoid the worst of climate impacts.

 

The study was led by Auburn University in the US and involved scientists from 48 research institution in 14 countries -- including the University of East Anglia in the UK – under the umbrella of the Global Carbon project and the international Nitrogen initiative

A study co-led by Professor Hanqin Tian, director of the international Center for Climate and Global Change Research of Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Science.

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