Nitrogen cycles in global croplands altered by elevated CO2

Cui, Jinglan; Zhang, Xiuming; Reis, Stefan ORCID:; Wang, Chen; Wang, Sitong; He, Peiying; Chen, Hongyi; van Grinsven, Hans J.M.; Gu, Baojing. 2023 Nitrogen cycles in global croplands altered by elevated CO2. Nature Sustainability, 6. 1166 -1176.

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Croplands are the foundation of global food security and represent the largest nitrogen flows on Earth. Elevated atmospheric CO2 levels are a key driver of climate change with multiple impacts on food production and environmental sustainability. However, our understanding of how the cropland nitrogen cycle responds to elevated CO2 levels is not well developed. Here we demonstrate that elevated CO2 (eCO2) alone would induce a synergistic intensification of the nitrogen and carbon cycles, promoting nitrogen-use efficiency by 19% (95% confidence interval, 14–26%) and biological nitrogen fixation by 55% (95% confidence interval, 28–85%) in global croplands. This would lead to increased crop nitrogen harvest (+12 Tg yr−1), substantially lower fertilizer input requirements (−34 Tg yr−1) and an overall decline in reactive nitrogen loss (−46 Tg yr−1) under future eCO2 scenarios by 2050. The impact of eCO2 on the altered cropland nitrogen cycle would amount to US$668 bn of societal benefits by avoiding damages to human and ecosystem health. The largest benefits are expected to materialize in China, India, North America and Europe. It is paramount to incorporate the effect of rising CO2 on the nitrogen cycle into state-of-the-art Earth system models to provide robust scientific evidence for policymaking.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: UKCEH Fellows
ISSN: 2398-9629
Additional Keywords: agriculture, biogeochemistry, sustainability
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Agriculture and Soil Science
Date made live: 30 Oct 2023 15:24 +0 (UTC)

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