The first meeting of a new multinational nitrogen research hub, led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, has been held in Nepal.

The South Asian Nitrogen Hub was launched last month with funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) under its Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). Its research will improve understanding of the nitrogen cycle in South Asia, though its findings will support international action to prevent the harmful consequences of pollution, including ill health, loss of biodiversity and climate change, across the world.

The UKRI GCRF South Asian Nitrogen Hub involves around 50 research institutes, universities and government agencies from the UK and the eight countries involved in the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives.

Approximately 100 delegates from the various partners attended the first meeting of South Asian Nitrogen Hub, which was hosted by Kathmandu University in cooperation with Tribhuvan University. They included researchers with a wealth of expertise from ecology and engineering to natural sciences and social sciences, as well as government representatives.

The UKRI GCRF South Asian Nitrogen Hub’s principal investigator, Professor Mark Sutton of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, says: “It’s great to see the partners working together sharing their knowledge between South Asian countries. There is no one expert of the whole nitrogen cycle; it means that everyone has something to offer as we learn as a team.

 “There are few places on Earth more affected by nitrogen pollution than South Asia, resulting in a web of interlinked problems, as nitrogen losses from agriculture and from fossil fuel combustion cause air and water pollution.

“The UKRI GCRF South Asian Nitrogen Hub is bringing together all eight countries of South Asia to work for a joined-up approach that fosters sustainable development for cleaner air and water, climate resilience, health and livelihoods.” 

Professor Sutton explains humans have dramatically altered flows of nitrogen on our planet, leading to benefits in food production but also multiple threats to the environment.

The hub is bringing together all eight countries of South Asia to work for a joined-up approach that fosters sustainable development - Professor Mark Sutton

Nitrogen pollution comes in many forms, with multiple impacts – for humans, animals and plant life. Gases such as ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) contribute to poor air quality and can aggravate respiratory and heart conditions, leading to millions of premature deaths across the world; while nitrous oxide (N2O) is a greenhouse gas that also depletes the ozone layer. Nitrate from chemical fertilizers, manure and industry pollutes rivers and seas, posing a health risk for humans, fish, coral and plant life.

Professor Tapan Adhya of KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, India, a co-director of the hub, says: “The hub is a great opportunity to bring all the South Asian nations to have a unified system of nitrogen use for a positive gain for agriculture and the environment.”

Members of the South Asian Nitrogen Hub have worked together with SACEP and the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) to draft a proposed resolution, submitted by the Indian government to the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4). The draft nitrogen resolution will be discussed 4 to 8 March by countries ready for its potential adoption on 11 to 15 March. Professor Sutton, together with SACEP and INI experts, will be present at UNEA-4 in Nairobi providing countries with technical support.

Further information

The South Asian Nitrogen Hub is one of 12 new interdisciplinary hubs, launched last month with funding from UKRI under its Global Challenges Research Fund. Over the next five years, they will work across 85 countries with governments, international agencies, partners and NGOs on the ground in developing countries and around the globe, to develop creative and sustainable solutions which help make the world, and the UK, safer, healthier and more prosperous.

This total £200m investment in the 12 hubs forms an ambitious new approach to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges from improving human health and promoting gender equality and social justice to fortifying ecological systems and biodiversity on land and sea, generating agricultural sustainability and fostering greater resilience to natural disasters.



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Career Details

2011-present           Honorary Professor, University of Edinburgh, School of Geosciences.

1992-present           (Natural Environment Research Council) Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (formerly Institute of Terrestrial Ecology), Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian EH26 0QB.

2011-present           Individual Merit Promotion (IMP, Band 2).