Synergy Grant 610028: Effects of phosphorus limitations on Life, Earth system and Society

PI(s): Philippe Ciais, Ivan Janssens, Michael Obersteiner, and Josep Peñuelas

Pictures © Josep PeñuelasOriol Grau, Sam Beebe, Mireia Bartrons

Quantifying the responses of ecosystems and society in a world increasingly rich in N and C but limited in P

P is an earthbound and finite element and the prospect of constrained access to mineable P resources has already triggered geopolitical disputes. In contrast to P, availabilities of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) to ecosystems are rapidly increasing in most areas of the globe. The resulting imminent change in the stoichiometry of available elements will have no equivalent in the Earth’s history and will bear profound, yet, unknown consequences for life, the Earth System and human society. The ongoing shifts in C:N:P balances in ecosystems will necessarily affect the structure, function and diversity of the Earth system. P-market crises might put pressure on the global food system and create environmental ripple effects ranging from expansion of agricultural land to P-price-induced changes in land management exacerbating the stoichiometric resource imbalance. Yet, the impacts of this unprecedented human disturbance of elemental stoichiometry remain a research enigma.

The IMBALANCE-P-team, that gathers four researcher groups in the fields of ecosystem diversity and ecology, biogeochemistry, Earth System modelling, and global agricultural and resource economics, will address this Earth System management challenge by providing improved understanding and quantitative foresight needed to formulate a range of policy options that will contain the risks and mitigate the consequences of stoichiometric imbalances. IMBALANCE-P will integrate some of Europe’s leading integrated assessment and Earth system models, calibrated using ecosystem nutrient limitation data obtained from field experiments. The project will establish an international process of science-based P-diplomacy.