Planetary Boundaries: Considerations for Nitrogen and Phosphorus Management

Rebecca PowerAs I write this, the smell of fresh soil is wafting through my window. The smell comes in part from freshly tilled farm fields and in part from my freshly turned garden. In this, the International Year of Soils, we take time to learn more about how critical healthy soil is to growing everything we eat and keeping our water fishable, swimmable, and drinkable.

In addition to learning (re-learning, really) to care for our soil, we are also learning more every day about how to effectively manage two other important inputs to food, fiber, and renewable fuel production – nitrogen and phosphorus. A recent article in Scienceprovides some valuable perspective during this month of spring fever and Earth Day.

The article, by Steffen et al, is titled Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. The authors establish science-based global and regional “safe operating spaces” for nine parameters, including the biogeochemical flows of N and P. They conclude that we have entered a “high risk” zone for both elements and suggest that a greater focus on flows might offer more successful solutions to N and P management over time (e.g. a greater emphasis on reducing excess P build-up in soils). The article is great food for thought for researchers, educators and resource managers. We invite you to engage in a discussion about any implications for our work. Please post ideas and comments below.


Rebecca Power, Network Director