Nitrogen is one of the core components of all living things. But as of late, more nitrogen has been leaving the world’s oceans than has been entering, leaving researchers perplexed as to where it’s ending up.
The New York Times’ Scientist at Work blog is following around oceanic researcher Alyson Santoro as she travels off the coast of Chile to try and figure out where all this missing nitrogen is going.
Some estimates of the amount of nitrogen leaving the ocean exceed estimates of the amount of nitrogen coming in by several hundred teragrams (that’s one billion kilograms) per year. Does this mean that the ocean is actually losing nitrogen? Probably not, but it does mean that we don’t have a good understanding of where in the ocean nitrogen is coming and going.
Santoro and a team of researchers will spend 35 days aboard a nearly 300-foot-long research vessel, where they will be collecting samples of water in six different locations to run tests on the microbes in the water (which pull nitrogen from the atmosphere).
Here’s the question I have: If the nitrogen isn’t going back into the water, what happens in the long term? [NY Times]
Image Credit: Alyson Santoro