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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-2019-27
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-2019-27
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Original research article 13 May 2019

Original research article | 13 May 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal SOIL (SOIL).

Revisiting the relationship between soil moisture and N2O production pathways by measuring 15N2O isotopomers

Kate A. Congreves1, Trang Phan1, and Richard E. Farrell2 Kate A. Congreves et al.
  • 1Department of Plant Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5, Canada
  • 2Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5, Canada

Abstract. Understanding the production pathways of potent greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide (N2O), is essential for accurate flux prediction and for developing effective adaptation and mitigation strategies in response to climate change. Yet, there remain surprising gaps in our understanding and precise quantification of the underlying production pathways – such as the relationship between soil moisture and N2O production pathways. A powerful, but arguably underutilized, approach for quantifying the relative contribution of nitrification and denitrification to N2O production involves determining 15N2O isotopomers and 15N site preference (SP) via spectroscopic techniques. Using one such technique we conducted a short-term incubation to precisely quantify the relationship between soil moisture and N2O production pathways. For each of three soils, microcosms were arranged in a complete random design with four replicates; each microcosm consisted of air-dried soil packed into plastic petri dishes wherein moisture treatments were established for water contents equivalent to 45 to 105 % water-filled pore space (WFPS). The microcosms were placed in 1-L jars and sealed; headspace samples were collected after 24-h and analyzed for total N2O concentrations using gas chromatography, and for 15N2O isotopomers using cavity ring-down spectroscopy. Relatively low N2O fluxes and high SP values indicted nitrification during dry soil conditions, whereas at higher soil moisture, peak N2O emissions coincided with a sharp decline in SP indicating denitrification. This pattern supports the classic N2O production curves from nitrification and denitrification as inferred by earlier research; however, our isotopomer data enabled the quantification of source partitioning for either pathway thereby providing clarity on N2O sources during the transition from nitrification to denitrification. At soil moisture levels < 53 % WFPS, the fraction of N2O emitted was predominately attributed to nitrification but thereafter decreased rapidly, according to: FN = 3.19 − 0.041x, until a WFPS of 78 %. Simultaneously, from WFPS of 53 to 78 %, the fraction of N2O that was attributed to denitrification was modelled as: FD = −2.19 + 0.041x; at moisture levels of > 78 %, denitrification completely dominated. Clearly, the soil moisture levels during transition is a key regulation of N2O production pathways.

Kate A. Congreves et al.
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Kate A. Congreves et al.
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Short summary
There are surprising gaps in the precise quantification of pathways that produce nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, as influenced by soil moisture. Here, we revisit a classic study, but use isotopomers as a powerful approach to determine the source pathways of nitrous oxide as regulated by soil moisture. Our results support earlier research, but we contribute scientific advancements by providing models that enable quantifying source partitioning rather than just inferencing.
There are surprising gaps in the precise quantification of pathways that produce nitrous oxide,...
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