by Manuel Soriano LagunaDemonstration of the field robot. (Photo: NORA)
Last 2015 was the warmest year on record according to the World Meteorological Organization. This situation has been happening for the last one hundred years since the discovery of the Haber–Bosch process. This is the process of artificial nitrogen fixation, a way of producing fertilizers and a landmark for understanding the actual global population. However, the constant addition of nitrogen-based fertilizers to the soil has an unexpected side effect: global warming. Plants are not able to take all the extra nitrogen that is added to the soil. This excess fertilizer is a fantastic food source for soil microbes that eventually transform them into one of the worst greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide.
The Nitrous Oxide Research Alliance (NORA) is a Marie Sklodowska Curie Initial Training Network (ITN) research project under the EU’s seventh framework programme (FP7). This project aims to generate specific recommendations, strategies and solutions to reduce nitrous oxide emissions. NORA will run for 48 months and has a total budget of five million euros, this money will finance the research of eleven industrial and academic partners from Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Sweden and Germany.
“Understanding nitrous oxide emissions require an international initiative,” argued Monica Conte and Christoph Keuschnig.
The NORA project has ambitious objectives and as such, it requires a multidisciplinary approach, this is why the partners have been divided in three different work packages: ranging from work package one that studies molecules and genes up to work package (WP) three that studies fields and ecosystems.
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Members of NORA at their first meeting in Norway. (Photo: NORA)
“Nitrous oxide is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and it can last in the atmosphere for more than 200 years,” said Pawel Lycus, a member of WP01 based at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. “I will specifically try to characterise denitrification phenotypes with particular relevance to N2O emissions”. On the other hand, WP02 will pay special attention to the optimization of molecular diagnostic tools for the analysis and prediction of functional characteristics of soils and wastewater treatment systems. Finally yet importantly, WP3 stands out for its huge display of technology. Since traditional manual techniques in the field are work intensive and present a very limited spatiotemporal resolution a completely new approach has been taken. NMBU, in collaboration with ADIGO, has developed a cutting-edge electrically driven automated platform. This robot is expected to permit autonomous and continuous nitrous oxide measurements with an analytical precision.
On top of everything mentioned above, NORA members will regularly communicate their progress in scientific conferences, press releases, academic publications, etc. At the end of the project, the consortium will deliver its recommendations and tools to the European Commission.