How Do Humans Affect the Nitrogen Cycle?

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The nitrogen cycle is the process and movement of nitrogen through ecosystems, and humans affect the nitrogen cycle through the use of fertilizers and chemical additives in soil, as well as through the burning of fossil fuels. Find out how humans have caused a decrease in soil nutrients with help from a science teacher and field biologist in this free video on chemistry.

Part of the Video Series: Chemistry & Biology
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Brian, with and today we're going to discuss how humans impact the Nitrogen Cycle. The Nitrogen Cycle is simply the process and the movement of nitrogen through ecosystems. And essentially nitrogen in its most abundant form is unusable by organisms, it has to be changed and modified so that plants can take it up and then plant, and then animals can then use it. Humans impact the Nitrogen Cycle in two main ways. Three main ways. First of all, our use of fertilizers and different chemical additives to the soil greatly increases the amount of nitrogen in the soil, and in turn, also creates a lot of runoff problems. The second main way that we add nitrogen is through the burning of fossil fuels. This creates nitrous, nitrous oxide and other compounds containing nitrogen and oxygen which are greenhouse gas, greenhouse gases leading to global warming and climate change. And thirdly, the growth of legumes like plant, like peas, also increases nitrogen in the soil because they're nitrogen, the bacteria on them are nitrogen fixers. Humans impacts, we see a lot of different consequences as a result of our activities, and the number one thing is that we've increased the rate of nitrogen cycling almost, to almost double what it was before humans really started to impact the cycle. Some of the consequences that we've seen as a result are the decrease of soil nutrients like calcium and potassium because nitrogen gets taken out more it uses all the other nutrients as well. We have acidification, a lot of times nitrogen can enter water, water bodies, and it leads to an excess amount of nitrogen, which can cause harmful algal bloo, harmful algal blooms, which essentially reduces the oxygen in the water and results in large fish kills. Nitrogen from humans also has lead to an increase in the loss of biodiversity. So, as you can see, humans impact the Nitrogen Cycle by our activities, and especially by our agricultural processes and, and behaviors in terms of burning fossil fuels, and it can have some pretty serious consequences.


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