There are several biogeochemical cycles, or biochemical cycles that operate on the global scale, that are of concern: Examples include the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, and the phosphorous cycle.
The nitrogen cycle may be of particular global concern. Since the advent of the Haber Bosch process, the flow of reactive nitrogen (Nr, as opposed to unreactive N2 that constitutes most of the atmosphere) has greatly increased beyond natural levels.
Much of the excess nitrogen is "denitrified", or converted back to N2 and returned to the atmosphere. The excess flow through the terrestrial environment has an effect on species composition. Excess reactive nitrogen in the ocean can be sequestered and released as the greenhouse gas N2O, the long-term consequences of which are unclear .
Locally, nitrogen pollution causes eutrophication, the process whereby nitrogen fertilizers algae growth in a body of water, depleting oxygen and causing death of other organisms, as well as other harmful impacts. Monetized damages from nitrogen pollution in the European Union have been estimated as follows.
If world damages from nitrogen pollution, per unit nitrogen fertilizer applied , are the same as for the EU , then world damages are $1 to $5 trillion per year. Most eutrophication damage comes from the food system.
Major sources of non-food eutrophication include inadequately treated wastewater, urban stormwater, and the atmosphere .
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