A weather balloon rises in the atmosphere. The air in the atmosphere is mostly nitrogen molecules.
Click on image for full size
Changing the Nitrogen Cycle, Changing the Planet
Look up into the sky and you look through millions of air molecules, eighty percent of which are nitrogen molecules, two atoms of nitrogen bonded together. Nitrogen is found all over the planet, not just in the sky. It is in living things, air, water, even animal waste. It travels between living and non-living parts of our planet via a process called the nitrogen cycle, one of the Earth’s biogeochemical cycles.
As humans change the way we live on the planet, the way that nitrogen moves around the Earth also changes. Nitrogen atoms may seem small enough to be easily overlooked. We look right through the ones in the air, do we not? Yet recent changes in the nitrogen cycle are causing a very noticeable effect on natural environments and human health. Lakes are clogged with aquatic weeds. Dead zones have formed in areas of the oceans where animals can not survive. Air pollutants that contain nitrogen decreasing air quality and greenhouse gases that contain nitrogen are becoming more common.
Read on to explore two examples of how humans affect the nitrogen cycle and how the changing nitrogen cycle affects humans and ecosystems.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
The Spring 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist
focuses on the ocean, including articles on polar research, coral reefs, ocean acidification, and climate. Includes a gorgeous full color poster!
You might also be interested in:
There is more nitrogen gas in the air than any other kind of gas. About 4/5ths of Earth's atmosphere is nitrogen gas! A molecule of nitrogen gas is made up of two nitrogen atoms. There are other molecules...more
Plants need nitrogen to grow. Plants are not able to use the nitrogen that is in the atmosphere for this, even though there is tons of it available. It’s just not in a form that plants can use. So they...more
Most of the air in our atmosphere is made of nitrogen gas. But there are other gases in our atmosphere that contain nitrogen as well. They make up only a small fraction of the air molecules in our atmosphere,...more
Even though only a tiny amount of the gases in Earth’s atmosphere are greenhouse gases, they have a huge effect on climate. There are several different types of greenhouse gases. The major ones are carbon...more
Leaders from 192 countries are meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark December 7-18, 2009 to decide how the world will deal with climate change. They are trying to decide how to limit the amount of greenhouse...more
The climate where you live is called regional climate. It is the average weather in a place over more than thirty years. To describe the regional climate of a place, people often tell what the temperatures...more
Satellites that orbit Earth help us study Earth's atmosphere, weather, and climate. Here are a few of the many spacecraft that study our atmosphere. Aura was launched in July 2004. It is studying pollution,...more