Phosphate is an essential resource in our human food supply, but we are running out of this vital mineral. Kevin Clift explains the current supply problem and the science projects seeking alternatives.
Originally shared by Kevin Clift
Phosphorous is one of those chemical elements that’s essential to life on Earth. In its phosphate forms it is needed for DNA, RNA, ATP and cell membranes. As we grow plants for our food or animal fodder they take up the phosphorous they need from the soil and then we transport these plants all over the world where they are consumed by people and animals. When plants are eaten, the small proportion of phosphate needed for animal life is absorbed, and the rest is excreted. Currently, this excreted essential element then flows into the local rivers from animals. From human animals, it flows through sewage systems into the local rivers and oceans. Consequently the soil where the food is grown, which these days may be far away from where it is excreted, is being continuously stripped of phosphorous. For us to grow food in the same field again and again, we have to industrially replace it in the form of phosphate based fertiliser.
As our population keeps doubling so frequently we need more and more food and therefore more phosphates but there are limits to their availability. Also, many countries, like those in Africa, have yet to adopt the industrial approach to food production. The world competition for phosphates is expected to increase as they do. Only one county, Morocco, controls 80% of known phosphate bearing rock. We have already consumed most of the phosphate from guano and before that much of the known phosphate bearing coprolites or fossilised dinosaur dung.
If you are interested in learning more about the potential phosphate problem, a problem that is leading to some of the deep sea extraction efforts, you might enjoy this radio programme from the BBC.
Tom Heap looks at whether we’re running out of phosphorus. It’s an essential element in fertiliser and all life on earth depends on it. Nowadays we get it from mining phosphate rock, which is a finite resource. Some scientists have predicted that we could run out within decades.
More here: http://goo.gl/Rp9HKP
(There is a stream, download (look for Tue, 18 Mar 14), and podcast available)
To learn more about our efforts to mine phosphorous (and more) from the deep sea continue here.
My name is Linwood Pendleton, I’m an economist. I have three things I want you to know about what’s happening in the deep sea. First of all we have already industrialised many parts of the deep sea. We have deep sea trawling for fish, we have oil and gas extraction, but we have cables and we have barrels of waste.
What’s happening now though is we are about to move into a different era, a new era of deep sea industrialisation. Keep in mind that all industrial activity in the deep sea has some environmental impact. Even oil and gas which seems to have a relatively small footprint has a relatively large at times impact on environmental conditions. For instance, the oil and gas platforms in British and Norwegian waters alone have produced 2 million cubic feet of drilling wastes. That’s enough to fill the Hyatt Regency up to the 20th floor. That waste sits on the floor of the deep sea, smothering the organisms there. It has toxins of course. Accidents in the deep sea will happen.
More here: http://goo.gl/AMYKRQ
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