Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New study focuses on nitrogen in waterways as cause of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere

New study focuses on nitrogen in waterways as cause of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere

Jake Beaulieu, a postdoctoral researcher the Environmental Protection Agency in Cincinnati, Ohio, who earned his doctorate at the University of Notre Dame, and Jennifer Tank, Galla Professor of Biological Sciences at the University, are lead authors of new paper demonstrating that streams and rivers receiving nitrogen inputs from urban and agricultural land uses are a significant source of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere.

Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and the loss of the protective ozone layer. Nitrogen loading to river networks from urban and agricultural activities is a potentially important source of nitrous oxide emission to the atmosphere. It occurs through a microbial process called denitrification, which converts dissolved nitrate-nitrogen to nitrous oxide and dinitorgen gases.

In a paper appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Beaulieu and Tank describe how they measured nitrous oxide production rates from denitrification in 72 streams draining multiple land-use types across the United States.

They found that the amount of nitrous oxide produced in streams is related to human activities that release nitrogen into the environment, such as fertilizer use and sewage discharges.

"Runoff from agricultural and urban watersheds has increased the availability of nitrogen in streams and rivers, greatly increasing nitrous oxide production rates," Beaulieu said. "This research shows that river networks play an important role in how human nitrogen use affects climate change and ozone loss."

The new study reports that streams and river networks are the source of at least 10 percent of human-caused nitrous oxide emission to the atmosphere worldwide, which is three times the amount estimated by an earlier report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Beaulieu and Tank suggest that reductions in nitrous oxide emissions from stream and river networks can be achieved through changes in urban and agricultural land use patterns, such as reduced agricultural fertilizer application.

Jake Beaulieu
University of Notre Dame

Friday, December 24, 2010

Chesapeake Bay regs would cost cattlemen $30,000 to $40,000 each

Dec. 22, 2010 7:18am

If Congress pushes through proposed Chesapeake Bay legislation during its lame duck session, Virginia farmers could face billions of dollars in additional expenses.

"On the farmer side of the equation, we’re talking about somewhere in the neighborhood between $1.5 billion and $3 billion," said Wilmer Stoneman, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation associate director of governmental relations. "Fencing cattle out of streams, the icon of the Chesapeake Bay Program, is going to cost $800 million. It will probably cost around $30,000 to $40,000 apiece for every cattle farmer in the watershed. And that’s a cost that they can’t absorb on their own."

Stoneman is featured on The Real Dirt explaining why Farm Bureau members are opposed to the bill and how voluntary water quality protection efforts of thousands of farmers have been ignored.

Federal Cap on Water Pollution Is Chesapeake Bay's Road to Remedy

Federal Cap on Water Pollution Is Chesapeake Bay's Road to Remedy

Mon Dec 20, 2010 11:24am EST

Nutrient trading in some states is similar to the carbon cap and trade Congress failed to pass to address global warming pollution

By Lisa Song

When Dawn Stoltzfus looks at the Chesapeake Bay, she sees a body of water on life support. "It's barely hanging on," Stoltzfus, a spokeswoman from the Maryland Department of the Environment, told SolveClimate News.

The Chesapeake Bay is the country's largest estuary, with a watershed that's home to 17 million people. Despite decades of cleanup efforts, the estuary remains plagued by invasive species, harmful algal blooms and loss of wetland habitat.

Excessive nutrients pose the biggest challenge to water quality, and for the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency is setting mandatory limits on Bay-wide nutrient loads.

The final numbers—called Total Maximum Daily Loads—will be released later in December and are supported by executive orders from May and September 2010, when President Obama called for better restoration of the Bay's ecosystem health.

In draft targets released in September, the EPA aimed to reduce the Bay's nitrogen and phosphorous by 25% from current levels, with all reduction measures in place by 2025.

If that sounds like the federal government is putting a cap on the water pollution flowing into the Chesapeake, that’s because that’s exactly what it is. Further, in order to meet and possibly go beyond those pollution limits, several states in the watershed have initiated nutrient trading programs.

The basic concept is the same as the carbon trading Congress has failed to pass to address global warming pollution. Businesses that would produce too much nutrient pollution can buy nutrient credits from other businesses that operate under the allocated limits.

Chuck Fox, senior advisor to the EPA Administrator, said this work on daily load limits in the Chesapeake is the most aggressive and most complicated done in EPA history.

"We want to bring a new level of leadership and write a new course of history for the Chesapeake Bay," he said.

Failure to Comply Will Have Consequences

Each year, millions of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorous are washed into the bay. These nutrients, which originate from wastewater treatment plants, fertilizer runoff and air pollution, can induce algal blooms that remove oxygen from the water and block sunlight from reaching underwater plants.

All marine habitats need nutrients to survive, said Richard Batiuk, Associate Director for Science at EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office. But the nutrient load has gotten so excessive it's like “we've poured on cheeseburgers and fries." The Bay needs to be put on a diet, he said.

Past clean-up efforts relied on voluntary nutrient reduction goals. If a state didn't meet its goal, there was no price to pay except for some bad press, Batiuk said.

The upcoming Daily Loads will apply to six watershed states – New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia – and hold them responsible for their nutrient output. States that don't comply will face consequences, such as stricter Daily Loads in the future and decreased EPA funding for state programs. In addition, states must commit to two-year milestones that clearly demonstrate progress.

Each state is free to come up with its own method of nutrient reduction. The process began this summer, when the EPA calculated preliminary figures for Total Maximum Daily Loads. Each state then wrote strategy reports on how they would meet those limits: examples include upgrading wastewater treatment plants or planting cover crops to reduce soil erosion. The strategies will be updated once the EPA publishes final Daily Load figures later this month.

This flexibility allows each state to use the strategies that are best for them, said Batiuk. For example, New York, which has a very strong local-based government system, is working to clean up local streams and rivers that feed into the Chesapeake. Delaware, with its poultry farming industry, is turning manure into landscape fertilizer to be sold across the eastern seaboard.

Nutrient Credit Trading in Three States

Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia operate nutrient trading programs. Maryland's began in 2008, and it was aimed at point-sources of pollution such as wastewater treatment plants. After two years, the program yielded only a single credit trade. That’s because the point-sources were reluctant to sell off their right to pollute.

Any wastewater plant that sells nutrient credits is effectively driving development to its competitors, said John Rhoderick, Administrator of Resource Conservation Operations in Maryland's Department of Agriculture. Once a treatment plant reaches the maximum Daily Load, there's no way to expand service to new customers.

To encourage trading, earlier this month Maryland expanded the trading program to include non-point sources of pollution -- such as agricultural runoff. State experts have begun to assess individual farms to estimate the nutrient output. If the farm has nutrient credits to spare, farmers can sell them and generate revenue.

"Right now we have a lot of interest from people we've run these assessments on," Rhoderick said, but no one has jumped into trading yet. Market signals aren’t clear enough. The credits haven’t been priced, because the prices will depend on how many farmers opt into the program. The expectation is that farmers who find ways to reduce nutrient output will be able to sell their credits to wastewater treatment plants seeking to expand, and generate added income.

Rhoderick points out that the nutrient credit trading program is different from carbon cap and trade programs that people are familiar with in one important respect. Under Maryland's current program, polluters can’t begin trading until they have met their nutrient limits. They can’t keep polluting and buy their way into compliance. They must first comply, before trading their way into possible expansion.

Still Rhoderick expects there will be plenty of buyers. The trick will be to get sellers into the market, and that's what the expanded trading program aims to do. By 2015, Rhoderick is hoping to see 10% of Maryland's farmers trading nutrient credits.

Pennsylvania’s nutrient credit system also had a slow start. Now six years old, it didn’t see its first trade until 2007. Since then, there have been nine completed trades with another six pending. In total, the state has traded 92,000 nitrogen credits and 200 phosphorous credits (each credit is equal to a pound of nutrient).

Looking into the future, experts are looking at ways to combine nutrient trading with carbon cap and trade. Some conservation practices such as planting trees sequester carbon in addition to absorbing nutrients; a recent University of Maryland study modeled how both practices might be combined yielding dual benefits to landowners.

Batiuk hopes that Chesapeake Bay will set an example for the nation. If the collaborative efforts work here, he said, then this gives hope for bigger projects like restoring the Gulf of Mexico, whose watershed drains a much larger area but which shares many of the same problems as the Chesapeake.

Real Challenges in Algae-based CO2 Capture


Real Challenges in Algae-based CO2 Capture

I thought it would be good to revisit the topic of CO2 capture (and partial sequestration) by algae, where the idea is to use the CO2 from concentrated CO2 emitting sources, especially power plants, to grow algae and use the biomass to produce biofuels. The concept is enticing in that it solves two problems in one go – reduces the net amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere while providing us with a renewable source of biofuel.

But, as will not be surprising, there are significant challenges this concept faces, and it can be safely said that it will take at least five years before anyone can convincingly come up with a biological/engineering model that can accomplish this sustainably. All the same, it is a domain that has exceptional potential. With this in mind, the Oilgae team does a continuous review of this field; I thought I’d share some of our latest thoughts about algae-based CO2 capture with you.

You will appreciate this is a relatively vast topic to be covered in a single newsletter; so I will limit myself to revisiting the real challenges that we see in algae-based CO2 capture.

I would request who would like more details on any of the challenges listed below to send me a note so I could answer specific questions (to the extent possible, that is).


It is difficult, if not impossible, to capture 100% of CO2 that is pumped into the ponds
This could be an important challenge, given that the total cost of CO2 capture, cooling, transportation and ultimate transfer to the ponds is one of the largest cost contributors for algae biofuel production. A literature review suggests that it might be difficult to achieve capture %s that are higher than 75%.


Energy costs for constructing sumps
The % of absorption of CO2 increases significantly if sumps are constructed in a customized manner within the ponds. However, construction of these pumps could add a few % points to the total cost.


Storage of CO2 during night
Algae consume CO2 during the daytime and they do not consume any CO2 during night when they in fact respire and let out CO2. Thus, any system needs to ensure that there is a storage of CO2 piped from the power plant. This could add to costs.


Overall economic viability
Ultimately, the challenge for algae-based CO2 might not be technical or biological in nature, it is more likely to be economic. The costs of algae-based CO2 capture are still quite unclear.


Industrial incentives and perception
Where the power plants have no penalties for not sequestering the CO2 that they generate, there is little incentive for these plants to invest in uncertain technologies such as algae-based CCS. And at a time when implementing even a pilot-scale algae-based CCS effort could cost in millions, a lack of clear incentive or penalties will be a severe inhibitor to research efforts.

While Copenhagen was a disaster, I am not sure how much better Cancun has performed in the context of getting national mandates on CO2 capture / sequestration.


Water source near the power plants
It requires about a million liters of water to make 1 T of dry algae biomass. In order for a large power plant to have algae cultivation that sequesters millions of T of CO2 per year, it is imperative to have access to large quantities of water., which the power plants might not have access to.

Narasimhan Santhanam


Monday, December 20, 2010

Boom in harmful algal blooms

Boom in harmful algal blooms

Harmful algal blooms (HAB), lethal for human beings and marine ecosystems alike, are steadily increasing in intensity in the Indian waters. Researchers have found out that the toxic blooms had increased by around 15 per cent over the last 12 years in Indian seas.

There were 80 harmful blooms between 1998 and 2010 in the Indian seas against the 38 that took place between 1958 and 1997. The number of such blooms was just 12 between 1917 and 1957, according to scientists.

These findings form part of the research data that was generated by a team of marine life experts, including K.B. Padmakumar and V. N. Sanjeevan of the Centre for Marine Living Resources and Ecology, Kochi and N.R. Menon of the Cochin University of Science and Technology, as part of a national programme of the Centre.


The researchers had monitored the harmful blooms and tried to identify the factors causing the bloom, dynamics of bloom formation, spread and its ecological consequences on marine ecosystems. The potentially toxic micro algae recorded from the Indian waters included Alexandrium, Gymnodinium, Dinophysis, Coolia monotis, Prorocentrum lima and Pseudo-nitzschia.

Toxic blooms have been reported from over 30 countries, including India. The first recorded observation on algal blooms in India was in 1908.


The blooms turn lethal for human beings when they consume marine organisms that feed on such algae. Incidents of paralytic shell fish poisoning, following an algal bloom, was reported in 1981 from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Three persons lost their lives and 85 were hospitalised in Tamil Nadu.

In a similar incident at Vizhinjam in Kerala in 1997, seven persons died and around 500 were hospitalised. These people had consumed a mussel, which had fed on toxic algae. Another bloom that hit Kerala in 2004 resulted in nauseating smell emanating from the coastal waters extending from Kollam to Vizhinjam. More than 200 persons suffered from nausea and breathlessness for short duration due to the foul smell. The bloom also resulted in massive death in the region, scientists said.

Scientists had collected algal samples from 1,880 stations during the last 12 years as part of the study. They had also recorded the presence of 422 species of micro algae, including 35 harmful ones. Noctiluca scintillans was the dominant and frequently occurring algae during summer monsoon. While Cochlodinium, Gymnodinium, Gonyaulax and Ceratium bloomed frequently, blooming was an annual affair for Trichodesmium. However, the Noctiluca bloomed at intervals.

It was the Arabian Sea that experienced the most number of blooms over the decades. The Bay of Bengal recorded blooms by and large during the northeast monsoon when cyclonic storms occurred in the region. Global warming and the resultant storminess could also influence the frequency of bloom formation in the Indian seas, scientists said.

Causative factors

Upwelling, formation of mud banks, nutrient discharges from estuaries and run-off from the land during southwest and northeast monsoons cause some algae blooms in coastal waters.

The changing patterns of nutrient ratio of the coastal and the open ocean waters due to anthropogenic activities, increased aquaculture operations leading to enrichment of coastal waters, dispersal of toxic species through currents, storms, ship ballast waters and shell fish seeding activities were some of the factors triggering the blooms, they said.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Diatom Ventures LLC

A Venture Capital firm named Diatom Ventures

Our Purpose at Diatom Ventures is to help great entrepreneurs build profitable and enduring businesses that benefit the world. We partner with emerging, high-growth companies that have developed innovative products or services with the potential to remake their industries in socially responsible ways, in balance with nature and all company stakeholders. We believe that, working together, we can both make a difference and earn superior financial returns.

Diatoms are tiny creatures that have huge impacts. They are beautiful microscopic plankton that drift on or near the surface of the sea, multiply quickly when conditions are favorable, and form the foundation of the food chain in the world's oceans. They convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and nutrients into carbohydrates on which nearly all life in the ocean depends. They fuel all of the Earth's living systems, and by their sheer number may cycle as much carbon on Earth as all rainforests combined.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wadi Hanifa Bioremediation Project, Riyadh.

Bio-remediation Facility


The Bio-remediation Facility is designed as habitat and natural structures to support the

biology that will do the work of cleaning the water.

The three main goals of bio-remediation are:

1. Reduction of fecal and total Coliform bacteria to safe levels;

2. Elimination of bad odours; and

3. Prevent cumulative negative impacts of nutrient load through the Wadi.

the bio-remediation Facility is the integral part of the Wadi hanifah restoration project. the main treatment process of the water comprises 3 main functions that will take place in this area:

1. Aeration to kill the coloform bacteria in the water;

2. Development of a food chain to bio-accumulate excessive nutrients derived from urban sewage and wastewater; and

3. De-nitrifying (to metabolize nitrogenous compounds) to reduce odours emanating from the wastewater.

The four components of the Bioremediation Facility are designed to enhance the natural treatment process are:

1. biocells – These are the basic units of the Bio-remediation Facility which are responsible for the bulk of nutrient assimilation. The whole facility consists of 3 biocell groups as follows: Group 2 (20 biocells), Group 3 (34 biocells) and Group 4 (80 biocells);

2. aeration system – This provides sufficient levels of dissolved oxygen (DO) to the system killing coliform bacteria and creating favorable conditions to microbes, fish & other aquatic


3. artificial periphtyon benthic substrates – Provide substrates for biofilm / periphyton which is essential for bio-accumulating nutrients through the food chain; and

4. Fish (tilapia) – Serving as the top of the food chain and controlling the growth of filamentous algae.

The Bioremediation Sampling Monitoring Program is designed to allow for water sample collection at strategic locations. The data collected is used to determine the treatment efficiency of individual biocells, groups of cells and of the entire facility. There are twenty two (22) water quality parameters being analyzed in each location and grouped under four principal categories: General Variables; Organics; Nutrients; and Microbiology.

The long term purpose in collecting and analyzing data is to compare system performance to the Master Plan design objectives, in addition to developing long term bio-remediation operation and maintenance protocols.

A summary of water quality analyses is presented in the Nelson Environmental

“Bioremediation and Surface Water Monitoring Report” dated February, 2010.

Bio-remediation Facility performance

Based upon early testing and analyses – only five (5) months of data sets from August 2009

to February, 2010 – Nelson Environmental reported conclusive data in several key areas:

Suspended solid removal rates are high (clear water).

Ammonia removal rates are high.

Fecal and total coliform removal rates are significant.

System is functioning without odours from the water.

Aquatic higher life forms (fish) are thriving in the Bio-remediation Facility.

Emergance of a new level of preditors - birds.

In summary, the Bio-remediation Facility is performing beyond expectations.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cancun Conference - Global Warming

Space mirrors and algae to cut global warming

Activists of The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Organization hold signs urging people to turn vegetarian as they believe it will save the planet, in Cancun November 29, 2010.

Activists of The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Organization hold signs urging people to turn vegetarian as they believe it will save the planet, in Cancun November 29, 2010.

Photograph by: Gerardo Garcia, Reuters

CANCUN — UN scientists are to consider putting mirrors in space and sprinkling iron filings in the sea in an attempt to cut global warming, the climate change summit in Cancun has heard.

Speaking at the summit, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said the Panel's next report on global warming would not only look at the threat of rising temperatures but also consider "geo-engineering" options that could reverse warming.

The announcement implied that scientists were losing faith in a global deal to stop temperature rise by limiting emissions.

There are already low expectations for the summit, being held at this beach resort on Mexico's east coast.

Representatives from more than 190 countries are meeting at the heavily guarded Moon Palace Hotel to try to find a way to limit emissions so that temperature rises stay below 3.6F (2C).

The IPCC is responsible for setting out the scientific basis on which the talks are based.

Addressing the opening conference, Dr Pachauri said if mankind continued to produce greenhouse gases at the current rate the world could experience catastrophic warming within 50 years.

He said the threat was so great that the fifth assessment report (AR5), due to be presented to the UN in 2014, would look at "geo-engineering options". "The AR5 has been expanded and will in future focus on subjects like clouds and aerosols, geo-engineering and sustainability issues," he said.

Later this year IPCC "expert groups" will meet in Peru to discuss geo-engineering.

Options include putting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight or covering Greenland in a massive "blanket" so it does not melt.

Sprinkling iron filings in the ocean "fertilises" algae, which absorbs CO2 and "seeding clouds" means that sunlight is blocked. Other options include artificial "trees" that suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, painting roofs white to reflect sunlight, and man-made volcanoes that spray sulphate particles high in the atmosphere to scatter the sun's rays back into space.

Critics have argued that the process could make climate change worse through unintended consequences.

Earlier this year the IPCC was forced to undergo a review after it was disclosed that the last report to the UN, the AR4, included the mistaken claim that the Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035. Critics called for the chairman to resign.

But Dr Pachauri insisted that the review made the panel stronger than ever.

"We are confident that the IPCC will emerge stronger as a result of this exercise and live up to the expectations of the global community," he said. The prospect of a treaty being agreed in Cancun is remote, as the world's two biggest emitters, China and the U.S., will not agree to legally binding targets.

Chris Huhne, Britain's Climate Change Secretary, has already admitted that a global agreement is unlikely this time, although he said it was possible to make progress in other areas.

Opening the talks, Felipe Calderon, Mexico's president, insisted a deal was still possible. "During the next two weeks, the whole world will be looking at you. It would be a tragedy not to overcome the hurdle of national interests."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

US Forests


U.S. Forests Soak Up Carbon Dioxide, but for How Long?

Forests play a key role in offsetting U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases, but that ability may shrink as the climate changes

The findings, released last week, estimate the nation's expanding forests sequester an additional 192 million metric tons of carbon annually due to increases in both the total area of forest land and the amount of carbon stored per acre.

That's the equivalent of removing about half the cars on the roads nationwide, or almost 135 million vehicles.

Ocean Biological Carbon Pump

The Biological Carbon Pump


How important is the biological pump overall? It turns out, it is very important. For instance, if the biological pump were turned off, atmospheric CO2 would rise to about 550 ppm (compared to the current 360 ppm). If the pump were operating at maximum capacity (that is, if all the ocean’s nutrients were used up) atmospheric CO2 would drop to a low of 140 ppm.

Interesting estimate by the University of California, San Diego.

The Marine Carbon Cycle
Altering this ratio of carbon atoms can be done, for example, by changing the amount of silicate (SiO4) in seawater. If there is plenty of silicate, marine organisms called “diatoms” will grow more happily. They fix carbon into organic matter, and they take much of it down to deep waters because many diatoms, at the end of their life cycle, tend to settle out of the water where they grew. If there is very little silicate available, organisms called “coccolithophores” grow more readily than diatoms.
Let us remember at least one element concerning the carbonate cycle: Unusually intense blooms of carbonate-fixing plankton, like coccolithophores, would have the effect of bringing carbon dioxide from surface waters to the air above it – that is, increasing the atmospheric CO2 concentration. The same is true for coral and shell growth in shallow waters. We would like to know, then, what precisely causes the blooms of coccolithophores that can be seen on satellite surveys, and whether their intensity is increasing or decreasing as the planet warms. Unfortunately, this is not known at present.


During the overall cooling of the planet, in the last 40 million years, more and more silicate has been removed from ocean in the upwelling regions around the continents (due to stronger mixing from stronger winds). We know this because radiolarians (plankton organisms using silicate to make their skeletons) have been getting thinner and more delicate through time. In the last 3 million years this process of silicate extraction has enormously accelerated, as the Antarctic Ocean started to deposit vast amounts of diatom shells.
Diatoms sequester carbon but Coccoliths do not.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Groundfish overfishing, diatom decline, and the marine silica cycle : lessons from Saanich Inlet, Canada, and the Baltic Sea cod crash

In this study, we link groundfish activity to the marine silica cycle and suggest that the drastic mid-1980s crash of the Baltic Sea cod (Gadus morhua) population triggered a cascade of events leading to decrease in dissolved silica (DSi) and diatom abundance in the water. We suggest that this seemingly unrelated sequence of events was caused by a marked decline in sediment resuspension associated with reduced groundfish activity resulting from the cod crash. In a study in Saanich Inlet, British Columbia, Canada, we discovered that, by resuspending bottom sediments, groundfish triple DSi fluxes from the sediments and reduce silica accumulation therein. Using these findings and the available oceanographic and environmental data from the Baltic Sea, we estimate that overfishing and recruitment failure of Baltic cod reduced by 20% the DSi supply from bottom sediments to the surface water leading to a decline in the diatom population in the Baltic Sea. The major importance of the marginal ocean in the marine silica cycle and the associated high population density of groundfish suggest that groundfish play a major role in the silica cycle. We postulate that dwindling groundfish populations caused by anthropogenic perturbations, e.g., overfishing and bottom water anoxia, may cause shifts in marine phytoplankton communities.

Authors : Katz, Timor; Yahel, Gitai; Yahel, Ruthy; Tunnicliffe, Verena; Herut, Barak; Snelgrove, Paul; Crusius, John; Lazar, Boaz

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Nitrogen Cycle

Press Release 10-183
Too Much of a Good Thing: Human Activities Overload Ecosystems with Nitrogen

Resulting ecological damage is serious, but could be reduced by wider use of more sustainable, time-honored practices

Photo of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala showing algae growth.

At Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, excess nitrogen promotes algae growth, which leads to eutrophication.
Credit and Larger Version

October 7, 2010

Humans are overloading ecosystems with nitrogen through the burning of fossil fuels and an increase in nitrogen-producing industrial and agricultural activities, according to a new study. While nitrogen is an element that is essential to life, it is an environmental scourge at high levels.

According to the study, excess nitrogen that is contributed by human activities pollutes fresh waters and coastal zones, and may contribute to climate change. Nevertheless, such ecological damage could be reduced by the adoption of time-honored sustainable practices.

Appearing in the October 8, 2010 edition of Science and conducted by an international team of researchers, the study was partially funded by the National Science Foundation.

The Nitrogen Cycle

The nitrogen cycle--which has existed for billions of years--transforms non-biologically useful forms of nitrogen found in the atmosphere into various biologically useful forms of nitrogen that are needed by living things to create proteins, DNA and RNA, and by plants to grow and photosynthesize. The transformation of biologically useful forms of nitrogen to useful forms of nitrogen is known as nitrogen fixation.

Mostly mediated by bacteria that live in legume plant roots and soils, nitrogen fixation and other components of the nitrogen cycle weave and wind through the atmosphere, plants, subsurface plant roots, and soils; the nitrogen cycle involves many natural feedback relationships between plants and microorganisms.

According to the Science paper, since pre-biotic times, the nitrogen cycle has gone through several major phases. The cycle was initially controlled by slow volcanic processes and lightning and then by anaerobic organisms as biological activity started. By about 2.5 billion years ago, as molecular oxygen appeared on Earth, a linked suite of microbial processes evolved to form the modern nitrogen cycle.

Human Impacts on the Nitrogen Cycle

But the start of the 20th century, human contributions to the nitrogen cycle began skyrocketing. "In fact, no phenomenon has probably impacted the nitrogen cycle more than human inputs of nitrogen into the cycle in the last 2.5 billion years," says Paul Falkowski of Rutgers University, a member of the research team.

"Altogether, human activities currently contribute twice as much terrestrial nitrogen fixation as natural sources, and provide around 45 percent of the total biological useful nitrogen produced annually on Earth," says Falkowski. Much of the human contributions of nitrogen into ecosystems come from an 800 percent increase in the use of nitrogen fertilizers from 1960 to 2000.

Another problem: Much of nitrogen fertilizer that is used worldwide is applied inefficiently. As a result, about 60 percent of the nitrogen contained in applied fertilizer is never incorporated into plants and so is free to wash out of root zones, and then pollute rivers, lakes, aquifers and coastal areas through eutrophication. (Eutrophication is a process caused by excess nutrients that depletes oxygen in water bodies and ultimately leads to the death of animal life.)

In addition, some reactions involving nitrogen release nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere. Nitrogen oxide is a greenhouse gas that has 300 times (per molecule) the warming potential of carbon dioxide. In addition, nitrogen oxide destroys stratospheric ozone, which protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet (UV-B) radiation.

Methods to Reduce Nitrogen Overloading

"Natural feedbacks driven by microorganisms will likely produce a new steady-state over time scales of many decades," says Falkowski. "Through this steady state, excess nitrogen added from human sources will be removed at rates equivalent to rates of addition, without accumulating."

But meanwhile, the Earth's population is approaching 7 billion people, and so ongoing pressures for food production are continuing to increase. "There is no way to feed people without fixing huge amounts of nitrogen from the atmosphere, and that nitrogen is presently applied to crop plants very ineffectively." says Falkowski.

So unless promising interventions are taken, the damage done by humans to the Earth's nitrogen cycle will persist for decades or centuries. These promising interventions, which would be designed to reduce the need to use fertilizers that add nitrogen to ecological systems, could include:

  • Using systematic crop rotations that would supply nitrogen that would otherwise be provided by fertilizers;
  • Optimizing the timing and amounts of fertilizer applications, adopting selected breeding techniques or developing genetically engineered varieties of plants that would increase the efficiency of nitrogen use;
  • Using traditional breeding techniques to boost the ability of economically important varieties of wheat, barley and rye to interact favorably with the microbial communities associated with plant root systems and do so in ways that enhance the efficiency of nitrogen use.

"While the processes of eutrophication have been recognized for many years, only recently have scientists been able to begin placing the anthropogenic processes in the context of an understanding of the broader biogeochemical cycles of the planet," says Robert Burnap, an NSF program director. This is an important article because it concisely develops this understanding and also provides reasonable predictions regarding the economic and policy dimensions of the problem."



The report does not discuss why algal blooms result in low Dissolved Oxygen levels of water when Diatom Algae are responsible for about 25% of the oxygen in the atmosphere.

It does not discuss why the increase in N in lakes and oceans is causing cyanobacteria blooms but not Diatom blooms.

It mentions "economically important varieties of wheat, barley and rye .." but does not mention economically important phytoplankton / algae - Diatoms.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Diatoms by Richard Henkels

The diatom is the most vital organism on the planet for it feeds the oceans and as it sequesters carbon through photosynthesis it gives off the critical core of the 60% of the earth's oxygen (the percentage attributed to the oceans.
Even more, where this oxygen would most logically be carried over land one finds the principal rains that water the core of the crops produced by the landmasses of the Northern Hemisphere.
In any case the triangular North Pacific would, most logically, pinch water movement into place and the S-shaped Atlantic lift.
The fact that the South Atlantic draws water from both the Indian and the South Pacific (around Cape Horn) when it should be slipping with the wind, makes this [Cape Horn] the roughest of waters on earth (due to the Atlantic's lifting).
As this foreign (trans-equatorial) jet enters the North Atlantic it draws the seed diatoms from the area around the Sargasso and at its convectional bend, southeast of George's Bank (a shoal documented as the primary reproductive section of the North Atlantic for fish) the sinking Gulf Stream creates great eddies known as Gulf Rings that carry seed diatoms on an arching path towards George's Bank in the same season the precise food for the triggering of the diatom bloom should be surfacing at Cape Cod (a deposit of silica) to be swept off shore to meet and be inhaled by the watery tornado-like Rings.
Most all the newly hatched fish (and shellfish) of George's Bank from cod, to flounder, to hake and herring depend for survival upon the diatom.
If one adult cod lays between 4 million and 7 million eggs and the two dozen other species that spawn here also depend upon diatoms. . . have the fish stocks in the North Atlantic have declining over the past 70 years been cause primarily by over-fishing as most everyone believes, or could it have to do with the extreme erosion of Cape Cod and Nantucket? It is my belief that this erosion has been mistakenly blamed on winter storms that sweep up this coast known as "Northeasters."
The truth is that the Labrador Current, the richest of cold water veins, is being ruptured. Without silica in this current, the Cape and Nantucket erode and the diatom bloom as a geometric progression, is being chopped before it begins.
Without diatoms, the newly hatched starve soon after taking life.
With a greatly reduced diatom count in the North Atlantic the fishing grounds from the Grand Banks, to the southern tip of Greenland, to the southern tip of Iceland, the British Isles, North Sea and even the North Pacific fed via the Bering Strait and Bering Sea. As this rich super-cooled flow passes out on the floor of the Bering Sea it creates the Alaskan "King" Crab (proof of this rich food).
Where the oxygen produced by the bloom would most logically be carried over land one finds the rains over the British Isles (that then drift over Northern Europe). Where it surfaces in the Northeastern Pacific it creates the nearly constant rains of the Pacific Northwest and Canadian West that then drift over North America (watering the farmlands of the Midwest, "breadbasket of thew world".
This means the rupture of the vein that triggers the diatom bloom is reducing fish stocks in the two most productive oceans on the planet.
If one were to repair this mechanism it would generate over a trillion dollars of revenue for the United Sates and the same for the rest of the world.
By repair the Bloom one could turn vast areas of these oceans into carbon dioxide-absorbing, oxygen emitting surfaces.

Richard Henkels

Diatoms in Aquaculture

A video about Diatoms in aquaculture and use of Nualgi is available on Youtube -


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Grand Lake, Ohio - Update

Officials unveil information to help restore lake
Thursday, 09 September 2010
Staff Writer
CELINA — Ohio State officials Tuesday night unveiled another piece in the puzzle in the fight to help restore the water quality of Grand Lake St. Marys.
Directors of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Ohio Department of Health and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a public forum at the Celina Fieldhouse as a way to brief residents regarding a pair of pilot projects on the lake. Several hundred people who attended the meeting were allowed to submit questions to a moderator, which were then answered by members of the panel. Russ Gibson, with the Ohio EPA, gave a brief presentation regarding the alum dosing test project. The project, which is slated to begin Sept. 20, calls for liquid alum to be applied to six locations along the lake — West Beach, Harmon’s Channel, 4-H Camp, West Bank boat ramp, Otterbein channel No. 1 and Otterbein channel No. 2 — for a total of 53 acres.
“It’s designed to provide some near-term relief to reducing the nutrient loads that are within the lake itself,” Gibson said.
When introduced into the water column, the alum will bind with the phosphorus and force it to the bottom of the lake. The alum will not add to the sediment at the bottom of the lake, and Gibson said the compound poses no risks to humans, fish or other animals.
“It’s something that has been safely used in nearly every drinking water supply and treatment system — the city of Celina uses alum every day,” Gibson said. “It’s been used in more than 150 lakes successfully across the country.
“We have the literature to support that alum will be successful in helping to reduce the internal phosphorus load that is in the lake,” he said. “Just to give you an idea, Grand Lake St. Marys has a very, very high phosphorus level. Our goal with this project is to reduce the internal phosphorus and inactivate those levels by 60 to 85 percent. That is substantial.”
Gibson encouraged residents to come out Sept. 20 to witness the start of the four-day project. He also reassured the crowd the alum dosing poses zero risk to people.
“There is no harm in coming out and watching,” Gibson said. “If you happen to be around the lake one of those days, drive by and look at what’s going on.”
The new project is different than the one proposed by Gov. Ted Strickland in July. That project called for two sites of 20 acres a piece.
“We just really had a very difficult time finding two different sites that were that large,” Gibson said. “So we elected to instead do six sites that totaled 54 acres.”
Once the alum is applied via a barge, the water will instantly turn milky. Within two hours, Gibson said the results will be noticeable.
“As that alum settles down through the water column, it’s basically stripping the water of the phosphorus and other nutrients that are in that water column and the water will become remarkably clear,” Gibson said. “We do not expect Grand Lake St. Marys to become gem clear. The demonstration sites, for some period of time, will be very clear.”
The second pilot project, which is being conducted by Algaeventure, of Columbus, involves introducing silica into the water column with the hopes of flipping the bad algae into diatoms. Diatoms are a species of algae that do not produce toxins and if the conditions are right, will dominate harmful algae. That project started last week at a site near the city of Celina.
During the question-and-answer session, panel members handled a variety of questions. Some ranged from dredging the entire lake to the harmful side effects of alum.
One resident asked what is being done to rid the lake of geese.
ODNR Director Sean Logan said geese produce waste approximately 28 times a day and there are more than 2,000 of them living around the lake.
“We believe that we have a resident population of 2,500,” Logan said. “We will continue, through controlled hunts in designated locations, to continue to reduce the population.”
The question of opening up the spillway to flush out the lake was posed to the panel. Logan said that was not a viable option and would produce little, if any, benefit.
“The average length of time the water in Grand Lake St. Marys takes to come in and come out is 1.3 years,” Logan said.
Logan also said opening the spillway would fail to reduce the internal loading in the lake — a root cause of the algae bloom problems during the past two years. Logan said the depth also is as hurdle.
“Because of its shallowness, it does not have the same stratification that would lead you to believe or would it allow such exchange of water as the question asks,” Logan said. “You could open up both tubes for 24 hours and only get 1 inch drop.”
Dredging also was brought up. Logan said state official will focus on spot dredging near tributaries that lead into the lake.
“Right now, in Montezuma Bay, we are going to go a little deeper where we already have a spoil site available and there is already an active dredging project in place,” Logan said. “The key to dredging is the spoil site. Where do you put the dredged material to allow it to dewater in a quick enough fashion so that you don’t have water being your capacity. We are open to all sorts of suggestions.”
Logan said state officials are open to help solving the problem. However, he again stressed that dredging the entire lake is not a viable option.
“We do need your help,” Logan said. “We need help in identifying upload disposal sites, I think we should start with Prairie Creek. We need upload land owners to help identify where we can have disposal of this material.”
Winter manure application procedures also were posed to the panel. Logan said any manure application between Dec. 15 and March 15 would have to comply with a series of guidelines in order to be allowed. In two years, Logan said there will be a ban on winter manure applications.
“The proper crop to uptake the nutrients that are applied, set back distance from stream, the future weather and the soil,” Logan said of the requirements. “The soil will always tell you what it can handle and what it cannot handle.”
Logan also stressed that the ultimate solution is in the hands of landowners, not politicians.
“We all are part of the solution,” Logan said. “The ultimate, long-term solution to this problem does not lay with government, it lays with private landowners. You need to unite together and say that we want a better future and I know that you do. We just need to step up to the plate, each and every one of us.”
Last Updated ( Thursday, 09 September 2010 )