Plants & GHGs

The NZAGRC’s former nitrous oxide and soil carbon work streams were combined into one programme this year. This ensures a strong overall framework, closer communication and full GHG analyses across the programme. The programme focusses on three key areas:

1. Identifying and prioritising plant traits for low GHG emissions;

2. Mitigation practices to maintain soil carbon and reduce nitrous oxide emissions at paddock scale; and

3. Defining the achievable soil carbon stabilisation capacity of New Zealand grassland soils.

Current progress and research stories

Influence of pore size distribution and soil water content on nitrous oxide emissions

van der Weerden, T. J., F. M. Kelliher, et al. (2012). "Influence of pore size distribution and soil water content on nitrous oxide emissions." Soil Research 50(2): 125-135.

Abstract
Nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from agricultural soils have been estimated to comprise about two-thirds of the biosphere’s contribution of this potent greenhouse gas. In pasture systems grazed by farmed animals, where substrate is generally available, spatial variation in emissions, in addition to that cause by the patchiness of urine deposition, has been attributed to soil aeration, as governed by gas diffusion. However, this parameter is not readily measured, and the soil’s water-filled pore space (WFPS) has often been used as a proxy, despite gas diffusion in soils depending on the volumetric fractions of water and air. With changing water content, these fractions will reflect the soil’s pore size distribution. The aims of this study were: (i) to determine if the pore size distribution of two pastoral soils explains previously observed differences in N2O emissions under field conditions, and (ii) to assess the most appropriate soil water/gas diffusion metric for estimating N2O emissions. The N2O emissions were measured from intact cores of two soils (one classified as well drained and one as poorly drained) that had been sampled to a depth of 50 mm beneath grazed pasture. Nitrogen (N, 500 kg N/ha) was applied to soil cores as aqueous nitrate solution, and the cores were drained under controlled conditions at a constant temperature. The poorly drained soil had a larger proportion of macropores (23.5 v. 18.7% in the well-drained soil), resulting in more rapid drainage and increased pore continuity, thereby reducing the duration of anaerobicity, and leading to lower N2O emissions. Emissions were related to three soil water proxies including WFPS, volumetric water content (VWC), and matric potential (MP), and to relative diffusion (RD). All parameters showed highly significant relationships with N2O emissions (P < 0.001), with RD, WFPS, VWC, and MP accounting for 59, 72, 88, and 93% of the variability, respectively. As VWC is more readily determined than MP, the former is potentially more suitable for estimating N2O emission from different soils across a range of time and space scales under field conditions.

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