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Posts Tagged ‘Heinz Center’

Anything New in the Story of Nitrogen Moving into the Gulf of Mexico?

by December 14, 2011

Dialogue Earth has roots in a broad, stakeholder-based national report on the condition and use of U.S. ecosystems published by the Heinz Center in Washington, D.C. (the report is available in hard-copy from Island Press). Curiosity about the ongoing relevance of these indicators has led me to dive in and see what, if anything, can be said about trends since the release of the report in 2008.

The first indicator in the spotlight is one that describes the movement of nitrogen (N) into major waterways, through run-off as well as point discharges such as sewage treatment facilities (here’s a link to download a pdf of the indicator). Why is this an important indicator of the state of U.S. ecosystems? Our explanation in the report does a good job of answering this question:

Nitrogen is an important plant nutrient and is essential to all life. Nitrogen is an abundant component of the earth’s atmosphere, but it is unavailable to most life in gaseous form. In order to be used by plants and other organisms, nitrogen gas must be “fixed,” or converted to a “reactive” form, that plants can use, such as nitrate. Nitrogen is fixed and accumulates in ecosystems through natural processes, such as the growth of nitrogen-fixing plants like clover and soybeans. However, human activity has greatly increased the amount of reactive nitrogen added to ecosystems. The largest human-caused input of nitrogen to ecosystems comes from the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen gas into fertilizers. Additional reactive nitrogen gas is produced by the combustion of fossil fuels. Reactive nitrogen from all these sources can ultimately enter streams and rivers. Excess nitrogen transported to coastal waters by rivers can lead to low oxygen conditions, threaten fish and animal life, and degrade coastal water quality. (more…)

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Engaging Experts from Across Society Transparently

by February 16, 2011

A recent article in the NY Times about the burgeoning array of question-and-answer (Q&A) sites couldn’t have been timelier timely for me. Our strategy here at Dialogue Earth depends on figuring out how to engage a network of experts from across society—not limited to just academics, but also subject-matter experts in industry, environmental advocacy groups, and beyond. Plus, I believe we should leverage the latest technology, like this new breed of Q&A sites, if possible.

Our approach at Dialogue Earth is deeply rooted in my experience working with hundreds of subject-matter experts while at the Heinz Center in D.C. Specifically, we tapped these experts to create the beginnings of a national system of indicators for the condition and use of U.S. Ecosystems: The State of the Nation’s Ecosystems. There’s more on this on our History page.

The challenge before me is to figure out how to recreate this amazingly powerful formula, while substantially reducing the turn-around time. We operated with committees that took months to converge on common ground, in part because they were charged with solving a number of issues. I need to get the same great quality of experts on-board in a process with turn-around times of hours or days. And, if that’s not enough to ask, I also believe the process needs to be completely transparent. (more…)

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