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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: May 2011

19 - Nitrogen as a threat to the European greenhouse balance

from Part IV - Managing nitrogen in relation to key societal threats


Executive summary

Nature of the problem

Reactive nitrogen (Nr) is of fundamental importance in biological and chemical processes in the atmosphere–biosphere system, altering the Earth's climate balance in many ways. These include the direct and indirect emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O), atmospheric Nr deposition and tropospheric ozone formation (O3), both of which alter the biospheric CO2 sink, Nr supply effects on CH4 emissions, and the formation of secondary atmospheric aerosols resulting from the emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ammonia (NH3).

Human production and release of Nr into the environment is thus expected to have been an important driver of European greenhouse balance. Until now, no assessment has been made of how much of an effect European Nr emissions are having on net warming or cooling.


This chapter summarizes current knowledge of the role of Nr for global warming. Particular attention is given to the consequences of atmospheric Nr emissions. The chapter draws on inventory data and review of the literature to assess the contribution of anthropogenic atmospheric Nr emissons to the overall change in radiative forcing (between 1750 and 2005) that can be attributed to activities in Europe.

The use of Nr fertilizers has major additional effects on climate balance by allowing increased crop and feed production and larger populations of livestock and humans, but these indirect effects are not assessed here.

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