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Ambio. 2002 Mar;31(2):64-71.

Reactive nitrogen and the world: 200 years of change.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903, USA.


This paper examines the impact of food and energy production on the global N cycle by contrasting N flows in the late-19th century with those of the late-20th century. We have a good understanding of the amounts of reactive N created by humans, and the primary points of loss to the environment. However, we have a poor understanding of nitrogen's rate of accumulation in environmental reservoirs, which is problematic because of the cascading effects of accumulated N in the environment. The substantial regional variability in reactive nitrogen creation, its degree of distribution, and the likelihood of increased rates of reactive-N formation (especially in Asia) in the future creates a situation that calls for the development of a Total Reactive Nitrogen Approach that will optimize food and energy production and protect environmental systems.

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