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Research Bulletin (Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station)

Abstract

The many facets of plant nutrients (e.g., N, P, and S) in the biosphere have become major environmental issues within the past decade. This concern is justified because of the increasing contamination of air and water resources by various substances on local and regional levels, especially in areas close to point sources. Little information is available, however, on variation in the amounts and concentrations of some of the substances present in air and natural water in various parts of the United States. Such information is essential for a better understanding of the transport and perhaps the fates of pollutants in the biosphere.

The atmospheric component of the N and S cycles often can be a significant part of the various pools of their respective cycles (Allison, 1965; Erickson, 1963; Feth, 1966; Gambell and Fisher, 1964; Meetham, 1950; Robinson and Robbins, 1970), but the atmospheric component of the P cycle seems to be of minor significance to the cycling of this element in the environment. Among the various chemical elements present in precipitation (e.g., N, S, K, Cl, and Ca), N and S deserve special attention because N added by precipitation may contribute to nitrate pollution of surface and ground water. Sulfur and N may cause acid rain that can lead to increased leaching from soils of Ca and other nutrient elements, deterioration of aquatic ecosystems, damage to vegetation and buildings, and other agricultural and urban problems. On the other hand, the limited amounts of N and S brought down by precipitation might be useful to meet crop requirements for these elements in areas where soils have limited supplies of N and S (Allway et al., 1937; Erdman, 1923; Olson et al., 1973; Schuman and Burwell, 1974; Tabatabai and Bremner, 1972; Walker, 1969; Widdowson and Hanway, 1974).

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