Emissions of N2O from Scottish agricultural soils, as a function of fertilizer N

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Potato fields and cut (ungrazed) grassland in SE Scotland gave greater annual N2O emissions per ha (1.0–3.2 kg N2O-N ha−1) than spring barley or winter wheat fields (0.3–0.8 kg N2O-N ha−1), but in terms of emission per unit of N applied the order was potatoes > barley > grass > wheat. On the arable land, especially the potato fields, a large part of the emissions occurred after harvest.

When the grassland data were combined with those for 2 years' earlier work at the same site, the mean emission over 3 years, for fertilization with ammonium nitrate, was 2.24 kg N2O-N ha−1 (0.62% of the N applied). Also, a very strong relationship between N2O emission and soil nitrate content was found for the grassland, provided the water-filled pore space was > 70%. Significant relationships were also found between the emissions from potato fields and the soil mineral N content, with the added feature that the emission per unit of soil mineral N was an order of magnitude larger after harvest than before, possibly due to the effect of labile organic residues on denitrification.

Generally the emissions measured were lower, as a function of the N applied, than those used as the basis for the current value adopted by IPCC, possibly because spring/early summer temperatures in SE Scotland are lower than those where the other data were obtained. The role of other factors contributing to emissions, e.g. winter freeze-thaw events and green manure inputs, are discussed, together with the possible implications of future increases in nitrogen fertilizer use in the tropics.

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