Nutrients on the move
Helping the water and agricultural industries plan for chemicals on the move.
Nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon underpin the health and growth of all plants and animals. But what impact will rising temperatures and different rainfall patterns caused by climate change have on the way these three ‘macronutrients’ move through the environment – and what would this mean for water quality, food supply and vital ecosystems?
Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and accredited by LWEC, the new Macronutrient Cycles Programme aims to find out, and to provide the basis for policy and investment decisions across government and industry.
More intense rainfall could, for example, increase the amount of dissolved organic carbon leaching into rivers from peatland, while increased fertiliser run-off from farmland could carry more nitrogen and phosphorus into water courses.
This could pose a real challenge for the water industry.
Above all, it would require well-informed ‘what, when, how’ decisions on investment in water and sewage treatment systems and on the development/deployment of anti-pollution technologies.
But positive opportunities could also emerge. Wetlands and forests remove carbon from the atmosphere through the growth of vegetation and subsequent storage of carbon. Could we find ways of enhancing this process to help mitigate climate change?
“Our focus is on undertaking research and devising models that will show how these three macronutrient cycles are changing and interact with each other, and will help us assess the environmental implications,” says Professor Paul Whitehead of the University of Oxford, who is the Director of the new programme. “Our objective is to start producing useful, usable data within two years – data that reinforces the UK’s leading position in the field of nutrient and climate science.”