This satellite image of summer conditions in the Gulf of Mexico south of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi (US) is from the MODIS/Aqua satellite. Red and orange colors indicate the large amounts of phytoplankton that have multiplied because of nitrogen-rich water entering the Gulf at the Mississippi River Delta. When the phytoplankton die and decompose, oxygen is taken from the water and other marine life can not survive. This is known as a dead zone.
NASA - MODIS/Aqua
Fertilizing the Earth with Nitrogen
Plants need nitrogen to grow. Plants get the nitrogen they need from the soil. In an effort to grow more crops, people have been making nitrogen fertilizers and adding them to crops. This has been very successful. It has allowed people to farm on lands that had not been very fertile. However, fertilizers are often overused, and that can cause problems.
Nitrogen from fertilizers sinks into soils and then washes into waterways causing too many nutrients. In freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams the nitrogen causes aquatic weeds to grow, filling the entire lake, river, or stream. Algae cloud the water green and slimy algal scum coats shallow rocks.
When the nitrogen-rich water gets to the ocean, it causes algae to grow and reproduce very quickly. As the huge amounts of algae use up the nitrogen, die, and decompose, oxygen in the water is used up. Animals can not survive without oxygen. They flee to another part of the ocean if they can, or they die. This happens where the Mississippi River enters the sea at the Gulf of Mexico. It also happens in about 150 other places in the world’s oceans.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist
, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store
You might also be interested in:
Kingdom Plantae has almost 300,000 different kinds of plants. Plants are found all over planet Earth. They can live in fields, in swamps, in oceans and in the desert. They can live where it is hot and...more
There is more nitrogen gas in the air than any other kind of gas. About four out of five of the molecules in Earth's atmosphere is nitrogen gas! A molecule of nitrogen gas is made up of two nitrogen atoms....more
You can’t see air molecules. But if you could, you would see that most of them are made of two atoms of nitrogen bonded together. Nitrogen is not just in the sky. It is found all over the planet. It is...more
Leaders from the countries of the world are heading to Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009 to decide how the world will deal with climate change. They will make decisions about how to send less greenhouse...more
How do you know to pack your bathing suit and sunhat for a trip to a tropical island or pack warm sweaters and coats for a trip to Alaska? If you know a little about regional climates, then you know what...more
Only a tiny amount of the gases in Earth’s atmosphere are greenhouse gases. But they have a huge effect on climate. There are several different types of greenhouse gases, but they all have something in...more
Some satellites study Earth from space. Some of them study our atmosphere and weather. Some take pictures of clouds. Others use special instruments to make measurements of temperature, humidity, or the...more