New discovery finds rocks produce more than a quarter of the nitrogen available to plants

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In California, the prevailing science has indicated that all of the nitrogen on Earth available to plants comes from the atmosphere. But a study from the University of California, Davis, indicates that more than a quarter comes from Earth’s bedrock.

“Our study shows that nitrogen weathering is a globally significant source of nutrition to soils and ecosystems worldwide,” said co-lead author Ben Houlton, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources and director of the UC Davis Muir Institute. “This runs counter the centuries-long paradigm that has laid the foundation for the environmental sciences. We think that this nitrogen may allow forests and grasslands to sequester more fossil fuel CO2 emissions than previously thought.”

Before this study, the input of this nitrogen to the global land system was unknown. Therefore, this discovery could greatly improve climate change projections, which rely on understanding the carbon cycle.