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Mary Mangan's profile photoKevin McCluney's profile photoGary Jones's profile photo
If only Greenpeace hadn't crushed that nitrogen-efficient wheat...alas.
I loathe these types of articles that chase funding rather than doing useful analysis. It's not a climate issue, it's an agronomic issue. The problem with N loss from fields due to nitrification and denirification is an economic loss and a loss of food fiber and fuel for a hungry world.

Saner work is being done by those who seek ways to reduce loss. See, for example,

The fertilizer developed at SLINTEC takes the urea molecule, which is widely used as a source of nitrogen in agriculture, and has it bonded to an inorganic nanoparticle based on a combination of calcium oxide and phosporic acid. These particles with urea anchored to the surface can in turn be inserted into a bulk nanostructured carrier system. Clay and gliricidia wood chips has been used for the bulk nano system in demonstrations and field trials. The nanoscale ‘architecture’ of urea attachment and insertion dramatically slows down the rate at which urea is made available in the soil for absorption by plants following application. This allows the availability of fertilizer in the soil to be optimally matched with the rate at which a particular plant can take it up. In this way, the amount of fertilizer needed to obtain the same yield, for example kilograms per acre of paddy, can be very significantly reduced.

That's one example and there are others. The problem isn't, as pseudo-greens claim, that there was a green revolution, it's that progress stopped and we are still using nutrient systems that are many decades old. Researchers dropped that ball to chase other more fashionable game.
+Gary Jones this sound interesting and promising, although I always wonder about unintended consequences (e.g., It does also sound similar to the effects of just having good levels of organic matter in the soil.

But either way, it kind of sounds like you are saying that research investigating sources of environmental problems and their causes is not useful... only research investigating technological fixes is useful. If so, I wholeheartedly disagree. In order to develop solutions, we must understand these problems. Although I lament it on occasion, my own research largely investigates the causes and consequences of environmental change rather than offering solutions. However, I like to think that an understanding of how river drying and changes in water availability influences our ecosystems and the services they provide, will help managers and the public make better decisions about water use and climate change, as well as motivate innovative coping strategies. Not all solutions to our environmental problems are technological... sometimes changes in individual decision making and public policy can actually solve problems as well.
Nano delivery systems are one of several approaches to improved fertilizers. It is an example that came up here on G+ recently so it was a "call back", an allusion to that earlier conversation. There are also various coatings and bacterial inhibitors that slow down nitrification and denitrification. Some are natural plant exudates such as brachialactone. There are also a host of soil management and amendment techniques (there's that dreaded T word again) that make more efficient use of nutrients. But research has been paltry for decades. The particular compounds and systems to manufacture them haven't been updated from some original green revolution era methods and materials.

It's odd to complain about improved technology to address issues that arise from older technology. GHG emissions from fertilizer are not the problem, as was noted in the article. That's an evasion of the problem - the reliance on fossil fuel - due to a perceived inability to deal with the resultant CO2 because of both political and technological impediments.
Well I agree that more research along these lines would be good. I'm not complaining about improved technology one bit... just saying that it is not the only solution to every problem... policy can be important. Also I'm saying that basic research about the problem is also useful, not just applied research about new technologies. The article I posted suggested that GHG emissions from fertilizer are a big part of the problem, so I'm not certain where you are coming from in saying that they aren't. I think the reliance on fossil fuel to create fertilizers is an important issue, but the article I posted clearly suggests that NOx emissions from increased application of fertilizer is also an important issue. So I'm not sure what you are saying... please clarify.
They article claimed that it was a comparatively easy target rather than a big problem. Same for methane. That's wrong, but easy to say. Methane concentrations are flat yet we hear all manner of nonsensical talk about methane. They do some scare calcs about relative forcing value to support the wheeze. Nitrogen and methane are not the problem, they are a seemingly easy policy option instead of doing the hard work of dealing with CO2. In other words policy is the problem rather than the solution. As we should expect.

There's plenty of basic research to do regarding the nitrogen cycle. It isn't a basic vs. applied conflict. It is a fashion conflict: anything about climate is fashionable and fundable while agriculture is stodgy yet essential, and so neglected all over the world.

Said another way, the development needed for agriculture and soil would be needed even if we were facing an ice age. It's no help to avoid climate burn and then starve to death, or any of the lesser harms that come from food insecurity in a world with rising population and already exhausted soils and scarce arable land. This is something that developing countries are much more rational about, of necessity. They don't have the luxury of fashionable behavior.
Well I have to disagree. I think that concerns about methane and NOx emissions are well-founded and that these gasses do have important climate effects and that we do influence the production of these gasses. On the other hand, I agree that issues surrounding fertilizer use and abuse and limits to production/availability are important whether or not there is a climate connection.
If you eliminated all concern for everything but CO2 in some miraculous manner, bunged every ruminant and banned the use of fertilizer, you would have accomplished nothing so far as climate change is concerned. The threat would be unchanged. It's what politicians do instead of dealing with tough problems. That, unfortunately, has been the entire history of climate change policy thus far.
I guess we will just have to agree to disagree about that. I think the evidence is there that it would make a pretty substantial difference.
It would not. At best it would delay the inevitable by single digit years. You fry in 2106 instead of 2100. Cold comfort, err, well, not cold but ...
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