Worldwide loss of phosphorus due to soil erosion quantified for the first time

Phosphorus is essential for agriculture, yet this important plant nutrient is increasingly being lost from soils around the world. The primary cause is soil erosion, reports an international research team led by the University of Basel. The study in the journal Nature Communications shows which continents and regions are most strongly affected.

The world’s food production depends directly on phosphorus. However, this plant nutrient is not unlimited, but comes from finite geological reserves. How soon these reserves might be exhausted is the subject of scholarly debate.

Quantification using high-resolution data

An international research team led by Professor Christine Alewell (University of Basel, Dept of Environmental Sciences) has investigated which continents and regions worldwide are suffering the greatest loss of phosphorus.

An important conclusion of the study is that more than 50% of global phosphorus loss in agriculture is attributable to soil erosion. “That erosion plays a role was already known. The extent of that role has never before been quantified with this level of spatial resolution,” Alewell explains. Previously, experts reported losses primarily due to lack of recycling, food and feed waste, and general mismanagement of phosphorus resources.

Related publication
Christine Alewell, Bruno Ringeval, Cristiano Ballabio, David A. Robinson, Panos Panagos, Pasquale Borrelli
Phosphorus shortage will be aggravated by soil erosion in Europe, Africa and South America
Nature Communications (2020), doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-18326-7

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