Dr. Steve Raciti, assistant professor of biology, has co-authored an article for the journal Biogeochemistry that examines atmospheric nitrogen pollution in urban and suburban areas. Reactive forms of nitrogen are essential for plant growth, but if more nitrogen is available than plants and soils can take-up, the excess becomes a harmful pollutant. Some of this nitrogen pollution comes from the overuse of fertilizers, but everyday activities such as driving or using electricity from fossil fuel power plants also contribute to the problem. The consequences of nitrogen pollution include acid rain, harmful algal blooms, drinking water contamination, and low-oxygen “dead zones” in water bodies such as Long Island Sound.
One of the key findings of Dr. Raciti and colleagues’ research was that urban areas received twice as much atmospheric nitrogen deposition as nearby rural areas. This finding demonstrates that we cannot focus our clean-up efforts on large power plants, alone, if we are going to solve the nitrogen pollution problem. We will also need to understand local sources of atmospheric nitrogen deposition within urban and suburban areas if we are to find ways to mitigate this harmful pollutant.
(Image above, Dr. Raciti and former graduate student Preeti Rao collect leaf samples for analysis. The goal of Dr. Raciti’s research is to provide a better understanding of the interactions between ecosystems and human activities so we can find solutions to pressing environmental problems.)