by James Bailey |

Today the New York Times summarizes a recent study of the way climate change will likely increase the runoff of nitrogen-based fertilizers, reducing water quality. A physical science response would be to try to block the runoff, perhaps with a big, beautiful wall. The authors of the Virtual Prairie project have known for years that there is a better way, using live plants, not dead walls. (The website is no longer active, but you can read about it in Self Schooling the Book or learn the details from the special issue of Ecological Modeling Volume 234.)

As the project showed, there are grasses in American prairies that do a bang-up job of absorbing nitrogen.

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Strips of prairies at the border of crop fields can improve water purification from nitrate excess before it reaches the streams. The recent EU agri-environment policy encourages farmers to plant these prairies. Source.

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And these same prairie grasses are a better source of biofuel than corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel.

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