$345,000 for research on gas
Nitrous oxide no laughing matterALI TOCKER
A University of Waikato researcher has received $345,000 to study the impact of nitrous oxide or laughing gas on global warming - but it's no laughing matter and could have a big impact on our farming future.
Joseph Lane, a computational chemist, said the gas had serious consequences when emitted from farmland into the atmosphere. It was a potent greenhouse gas and contributed significantly to the ozone hole, he said.
The main source of nitrous oxide was agricultural soils. After nitrogen fertiliser or stock effluent was put onto soil, a bacterial process occurred that created and released the gas. The concentration of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere was steadily increasing, mainly as a result of intensified agriculture, making its impact critical for an agricultural economy such as New Zealand's.
"Nitrous oxide is now the most important ozone-depleting substance," Dr Lane said. "My research is about better understanding its fate in the atmosphere."
Dr Lane's Marsden-funded research would take place during three years. He will investigate how nitrous oxide absorbs sunlight and breaks down in the various parts of the atmosphere.
His work would include more than a million hours of computer simulations at the University of Waikato and using the National eScience Infrastructure super-computer. Physical laser experiments would take place with researchers at the University of Sydney.
Previous research on nitrous oxide had looked at the gas only as individual molecules, whereas Dr Lane's research would look at nitrous oxide complexes. These complexes were thought to be formed in the low temperatures of the upper atmosphere and could change our understanding of how the gas affects the atmosphere.
"It may be that nitrous oxide has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than previously thought or that we're emitting much more nitrous oxide than we presently think."
Dr Lane said the research would lead to a better understanding of important atmospheric matters such as the ozone hole and climate change. "This could lead to changes in land use, particularly in relation to intensification of farming," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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