Fact Sheets & Studies

Reactive nitrogen and human-induced changes to the global nitrogen cycle,
plus farm-based solutions to nitrogen pollution.

Fact Sheets

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an atmospheric gas commonly known as laughing gas. Though less abundant than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping heat. It also lingers in the atmosphere longer than CO2. In addition to its heat-trapping properties, Scientists recently declared N2O the world's greatest source of atmospheric ozone.Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an atmospheric gas commonly known as laughing gas. Though less abundant than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping heat. It also lingers in the atmosphere longer than CO2. In addition to its heat-trapping properties, Scientists recently declared N2O the world’s greatest source of atmospheric ozone.

Nitrogen is literally all around us, including nearly 80 percent of each breath we take. Though it is the most plentiful element in the earth's atmosphere, it's unusable in its inert state and must be transformed into reactive nitrogen before plants and animals can use it to make protein, DNA, and other compounds essential for life. Yet changes to the nitrogen cycle, like the more well-known changes to the carbon cycle, are creating environmental havoc.Reactive Nitrogen

Nitrogen is literally all around us, including nearly 80 percent of each breath we take. Though it is the most plentiful element in the earth’s atmosphere, it’s unusable in its inert state and must be transformed into reactive nitrogen before plants and animals can use it to make protein, DNA, and other compounds essential for life. Yet changes to the nitrogen cycle, like the more well-known changes to the carbon cycle, are creating environmental havoc.

Farmers across the country are employing cutting edge technology to reduce their environmental impact without sacrificing crop yields.Farm-Level Solutions

Farmers across the country are employing cutting edge technology to reduce their environmental impact without sacrificing crop yields.

Studies and Reports

Biofuels
October 4, 2011
National Academy of Sciences, Lester B. Lave
July 15, 2010
Center for Agricultural and Rural Development Iowa State, Bruce A. Babcock
March 15, 2010
BioScience, Thomas Hertel
February 10, 2010
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, David M. Lapola
July 17, 2009
Science, David Tilman
January 15, 2009
UNESCO-SCOPE, Robert Howarth
February 15, 2008
Science Express, Tim Searchinger
Nitrogen Imbalance and Agriculture
November 5, 2013
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , Mathieu Sebilo and Bernhard Mayer
January 17, 2012
Issues in Ecology #15, Ecological Society of America, Eric Davidson
October 1, 2011
Nature, Jonathan A. Foley
November 6, 2009
Science, James J. Elser
September 11, 2009
ournal of Environmental Quality, R. L. Mulvaney
June 19, 2009
May 16, 2008
May 1, 2007
Woods Hole Research Center, Elizabeth Braun
April 15, 2007
UNESCO-SCOPE, James N. Galloway
Public Health Impacts of Nitrogen Pollution
September 1, 2013
Environmental Health Perspectives, Jean Brender
September 23, 2009
Nature, Johan Rockström
February 15, 2008
January 1, 2003
Frontiers in Ecology & Environment, Alan Townsend
Coastal "Dead Zones"
September 6, 2008
Elsevier, Robert Howarth
March 1, 2008
World Resources Institute, Mindy Selman


Nitrogen Chemical
Cheat Sheet

Nitric Oxide (NO) & Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

These gases lead to ground-level ozone. Collectively referred to as NOx (pronounced ENN-Oh-Ex), they come mostly from fossil fuel burning, except in the tropics, where some NOx is produced by soils.

NH3 Ammonia, or Anhydrous Ammonia gas

Derived from nitrogen applied to the land through chemical fertilizer, manure and other animal wastes. Some NH3 is produced from older cars that lack catalytic converters. NH3 contributes to smog and haze; fine particles cause respiratory problems.

N2O Nitrous Oxide

A greenhouse gas, as well as a gas that contributes to destruction of ozone in the stratosphere. N2O comes from bacterial processing of nitrogen in the environment, whether it originates as NO, NO2, NH3 or some other form.

Nitrogen

Atmospheric, “unfixed” nitrogen. Not usable by plants or animals. About 80 percent of the atmosphere is comprised of N2.

Fixed Nitrogen

Nitrogen that has been chemically altered to make it usable by plants. Fixed nitrogen is a primary component in agricultural fertilizer.

Nitrates

Forms when nitrogen from ammonia or other sources—commonly fertilizers—mixes with oxygenated water. Nitrate-polluted drinking water can cause health problems including “blue baby syndrome” caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood.