Science Inventory

Ecosystem services altered by human changes in the nitrogen cycle: A new perspective for assessment

Citation:

COMPTON, J. E., J. A. Harrison, R. L. DENNIS, T. L. GREAVER, B. H. HILL, S. J. JORDAN, H. A. WALKER, AND H. V. Campbell. Ecosystem services altered by human changes in the nitrogen cycle: A new perspective for assessment . Presented at AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, CA, December 05 - 09, 2011.

Impact/Purpose:

Human alteration of the nitrogen (N) cycle has produced benefits for health and well-being, but excess N has altered many ecosystems and degraded air and water quality. US regulations mandate protection of the environment in terms that directly connect to ecosystem services. Here, we review the science quantifying effects of N on key ecosystem services, and synthesize existing information concerning the costs of N-related impacts or mitigation using the metric of cost per unit of N. Damage costs to the provision of clean air, reflected by impaired human respiratory health, are well characterized and fairly high (e.g. costs of ozone and particulate damages of $28 per kg NOx-N). We also consider the impacts of nitrogen and climate interactions. Damage to services associated with productivity, biodiversity, recreation and clean water are less certain and although generally lower, these costs are quite variable (< $2.2–56 per kg N). In the current Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, for example, the collection of available damage costs clearly exceeds the projected abatement costs to reduce N loads to the Bay ($8–15 per kg N). Although few damage costs specifically consider climate-nitrogen interactions, changes in precipitation and temperature are expected to have synergistic impacts on drinking water quality and eutrophication in particular. Explicit consideration and accounting of effects on multiple ecosystem services provides decision-makers an integrated view of N sources, damages and abatement costs to address the significant challenges associated with reducing N pollution.

Description:

Human alteration of the nitrogen (N) cycle has produced benefits for health and well-being, but excess N has altered many ecosystems and degraded air and water quality. US regulations mandate protection of the environment in terms that directly connect to ecosystem services. Here, we review the science quantifying effects of N on key ecosystem services, and synthesize existing information concerning the costs of N-related impacts or mitigation using the metric of cost per unit of N. Damage costs to the provision of clean air, reflected by impaired human respiratory health, are well characterized and fairly high (e.g. costs of ozone and particulate damages of $28 per kg NOx-N). We also consider the impacts of nitrogen and climate interactions. Damage to services associated with productivity, biodiversity, recreation and clean water are less certain and although generally lower, these costs are quite variable (< $2.2–56 per kg N). In the current Chesapeake Bay restoration effort, for example, the collection of available damage costs clearly exceeds the projected abatement costs to reduce N loads to the Bay ($8–15 per kg N). Although few damage costs specifically consider climate-nitrogen interactions, changes in precipitation and temperature are expected to have synergistic impacts on drinking water quality and eutrophication in particular. Explicit consideration and accounting of effects on multiple ecosystem services provides decision-makers an integrated view of N sources, damages and abatement costs to address the significant challenges associated with reducing N pollution.

Record Details:

Record Type: DOCUMENT (PRESENTATION/ABSTRACT)
Product Published Date: 12/09/2011
Record Last Revised: 05/09/2012
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 238416

Organization:

U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

NATIONAL HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS RESEARCH LABORATORY

WESTERN ECOLOGY DIVISION

FRESHWATER ECOLOGY BRANCH