Presentation on theme: "THE NITROGEN CYCLE Nitrogen (N) is an element like carbon. All creatures need nitrogen to survive. There are huge amounts of nitrogen gas in the atmosphere,"— Presentation transcript:
THE NITROGEN CYCLE Nitrogen (N) is an element like carbon. All creatures need nitrogen to survive. There are huge amounts of nitrogen gas in the atmosphere, but most animals and plants have no way of using it. It needs to be fixed (put into a biologically useful compound). After it is fixed, it can then start to move through the cycles and organisms in an ecosystem.
WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT? Let's start with the main sources of nitrogen. Nitrogen gas is the most abundant element in our atmosphere. The other main source of nitrogen is in the nitrates of soil. The nitrogen in the atmosphere cannot be used while the nitrates in the soil can be used by plants. Nitrogen can be converted into useful nitrate compounds by bacteria, algae, and even lightning. Once in the soil, the nitrogen becomes biologically accessible.
BORROWING NITROGEN Plants are the main users of nitrogen in the soil. They are able to take in the nitrates through their root system. Once inside the plant, the nitrates are used in organic compound that let the plant survive. Organic compounds have carbon atoms. Those compounds might be proteins, enzymes, or nucleic acids. Once the plants have converted the nitrogen, the element can be returned to the soil or taken up by animals. Herbivores eat plants and convert many of the amino acids into new proteins. Omnivores that eat both plants and animals are able to take in the nitrogen rich compounds as well. The nitrogen compounds are only borrowed. Nitrogen atoms are returned to the soil in poop and dead organisms. Once in the soil, the whole process can start again.
Nitrogen is essential to all living systems, which makes the nitrogen cycle one of Earth's most important nutrient cycles. Eighty percent of Earth's atmosphere is made up of nitrogen in its gas phase. Atmospheric nitrogen becomes part of living organisms in two ways. The first is through bacteria in the soil that form nitrates out of nitrogen in the air. The second is through lightning. During electrical storms, large amounts of nitrogen are oxidized and united with water to produce an acid that falls to Earth in rainfall and deposits nitrates in the soil. Plants take up the nitrates and convert them to proteins that then travel up the food chain through herbivores and carnivores. When organisms excrete waste, the nitrogen is released back into the environment. When they die and decompose, the nitrogen is broken down and converted to ammonia. Plants absorb some of this ammonia; the remainder stays in the soil, where bacteria convert it back to nitrates. The nitrates may be stored in humus or leached from the soil and carried into lakes and streams. Nitrates may also be converted to gaseous nitrogen through a process called denitrification and returned to the atmosphere, continuing the cycle.
Human activities and the nitrogen cycle Human activities cause increased nitrogen deposition in a variety of ways, including * burning of both fossil fuels and forests, which releases nitrogen into the atmosphere * fertilizing crops with nitrogen- based fertilizers, which then enter the soil and water * ranching, during which livestock waste releases ammonia into the soil and water * allowing sewage and septic tanks to leach into streams, rivers, and groundwater
Harmful effects of nitrogen deposition The consequences of human-caused nitrogen deposition are profound and influence many aspects of the Earth system, including *ecosystems: Nitrogen additions to the soil can lead to changes that favor weeds over native plants, which in turn reduces species diversity and changes ecosystems. Research shows that nitrogen levels are linked with changes in grassland species, from mosses and lichens to grasses and flowers. *precipitation: Nitrogen oxides react with water to form nitric acid, which along with sulfur dioxide is a major component of acid rain. Acid rain can damage and kill aquatic life and vegetation, as well as corrode buildings, bridges, and other structures. *air quality: High concentrations of nitrogen oxides in the lower atmosphere are a precursor to tropospheric ozone which is known to damage living tissues, including human lungs, and decrease plant production. *water quality: Adding large amounts of nitrogen to rivers, lakes, and coastal systems results in eutrophication, a condition that occurs in aquatic ecosystems when excessive nutrient concentrations stimulate blooms of algae that deplete oxygen, killing fish and other organisms and ruining water quality. Parts of the Gulf of Mexico, for example, are so inundated with excess fertilizer that the water is clogged with algae, suffocating fish and other marine life. *carbon cycle: The impacts of nitrogen deposition on the global carbon cycle are uncertain, but it is likely that some ecosystems have been fertilized by additional nitrogen, which may boost their capture and storage of carbon. Sustained carbon sinks are unlikely, however, because soil acidification, ozone pollution, and other negative effects eventually compromise nitrogen-enhanced carbon uptake.