According to researchers, the consequences for biodiversity can be severe, as overgrowth of plants in wetlands reduces the oxygen in the water needed by other species.
The work, developed with the analysis of maps of the concentration and deposition of nitrogen and sulphur compounds with the highest level of detail so far existing for mainland Portugal, was published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.
The burning of fossil fuels associated with transport and industrial activities, together with agriculture and livestock, are factors that contribute to air pollution, through nitrogen, sulphur and other compounds that later deposit on the surface through rain and sedimentation, “With potentially serious consequences for health and ecosystems”, warn the researchers.
The study’s first author was researcher Maria Alexandra Oliveira, from the Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes, at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon.
Natura 2000 is a network of protected areas made up of 26,000 sites that represent one fifth of European territory, “offering protection to endangered species and habitats in Europe”, according to the data accompanying the study’s release.
The results mean “more than triple what was known with previous models”, according to a statement from the Faculty of Science at the University of Lisbon. The researchers believe that the area at risk of eutrophication may be even higher.
“For 64 percent of the Natura 2000 network locations, there is still no information on the critical capacity of their ecosystems to tolerate excess nitrogen”, the document reads.
Eutrophication is one of the factors most associated with climate change.
The study was developed in partnership with the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology.
The new maps that allow identifying these areas have a spatial resolution of 5 km by 5 km, while the previous ones had a resolution of 10 km by 10 km and 50 km by 50 km.