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Experts and Artists Examine the Future of Phosphorous

NSF Award:

Workshop Support for the International Phosphorus Sustainability Summit at Arizona State University, February 2011  (Arizona State University)

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The International Sustainable Phosphorous Summit, held at Arizona State University in February 2011, brought together more than 100 experts to discuss an ongoing crisis in global supplies of phosphorus (P). In a showcase of science made vivid, artists highlighted the unique role of phosphorous in everyday ecosystem functioning and the problems created by the ways it is currently used.

The workshop enabled an internationally diverse group including scientists, farmers, policymakers and others to discuss an agenda for long-term management of phosphorus supplies on a global scale. At the same time, graduate students served as organizers to gain important leadership experience, while artists were paired with scientists to help facilitate public appreciation of the topic.

As one of the key components in DNA, phosphorus is a basic necessity for life. It is found in a limited supply of phosphate mineral deposits around the globe, where it is mined to produce fertilizer. In many environments, P is naturally limited, and subsidies have greatly aided the production of crops. But the wide agricultural application of phosphorus has tipped the balance so that farms are accumulating far more of the nutrient than they can use.  Urban sewage is also a significant source of P.

Excess phosphorus in runoff contributes to pollution in lakes and oceans. In aquatic areas where this nutrient is over-abundant, outbreaks of algae blooms deprive other animals and plants of oxygen, creating 'dead zones' such as those harming large areas of the Gulf Coast. Paradoxically, current rates of P mining have also led to a decline of rock phosphate reserves, with predictions that production will peak around 2034. 

To address these complex issues and develop a plan for sustainable phosphorus use, summit attendees discussed several directions for new research and are producing a slate of recommendations for next steps.

Images (1 of )

  • Artwork highlighting the Sustainable Phosphorus Summit
  • Sketch developed during International Sustainable Phosphorous Summit
Ericka Cero Wood's artwork highlights the work of the Sustainable Phosphorus Summit
Ericka Cero Wood
Permission Granted
Angela Cazel Jahn first developed the work "Our Floating Days" as a sketch.
Angela Cazel Jahn
Permission Granted

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