The Earths nitrogen cycle became established roughly 2.7 billion years ago caused by atmospheric reactions and slow geological processes. Microbial processes then developed to combine with natural feedback and controls. Unfortunately, over the past century new agricultural practices have drastically disrupted the nitrogen cycle. In order to meet the growing demands for food, extensive usage of fresh waters and coastal zones have contributed to releasing nitrous oxide as a greenhouse gas. If active strategies and interventions are not applied to the problem, the Earth’s natural nitrogen cycle may never be restored.
Humans have disrupted the nitrogen cycle in two main ways: through creating fertilizer and burning fossil fuels. Creating fertilizer disrupts the nitrogen cycle by producing nitrites and nitrates which can cause water pollution when they leak from the soil into bodies of water. Nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, can be released from fertilizer. Gases released from fertilizer also contribute to increasing the amount of ozone in the lower atmosphere (which is a pollutant outside of the ozone layer) and increasing the amount of aerosols (which can cause cancer, respiratory illnesses, and and cardiac disease). Burning fossil fuels disrupts the nitrogen cycle by creating nitrogen oxides, which can turn into smog and acid rain when they react with the air.
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