Fritz Haber, born 140 years ago this week, was a German Jewish chemist who won the Nobel Prize for discovering how to fix nitrogen from the air. It is this critical invention – artificial fertilizer- which allowed the world population to explode to its current level. Nitrogen pollution is also an increasingly important environmental threat, obscured though it is by the carbon crisis:
Nitrates pollute drinking water. Some nitrogen compounds in the atmosphere produce smog and haze. Others contribute to global warming or destroy the ozone layer. Through farm runoff, nitrogen also makes its way into streams and rivers, and eventually estuaries and oceans. There, it sets off an explosive growth of algae that steals oxygen away from other organisms, creating so-called “dead zones”, etc.
For more information, see:
• A short Haber biography from the Nobel e-Museum.
• Wikipedia’s introduction to the Nitrogen cycle.
• Earth Trend’s NUTRIENT OVERLOAD: UNBALANCING THE GLOBAL NITROGEN CYCLE.