Main content area

The effect of biochar addition on N₂O and CO₂ emissions from a sandy loam soil – The role of soil aeration

Case, Sean D.C., McNamara, Niall P., Reay, David S., Whitaker, Jeanette
Soil biology & biochemistry 2012 v.51 pp. 125-134
Miscanthus giganteus, aeration, biochar, bulk density, carbon dioxide, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, hardwood, immobilization in soil, nitrous oxide, risk reduction, sandy loam soils, soil air, soil amendments, soil density, soil treatment, suppressive soils, water content, water holding capacity
Biochar application to soil has significant potential as a climate change mitigation strategy, due to its recalcitrant C content and observed effect to suppress soil greenhouse gas emissions such as nitrous oxide (N₂O). Increased soil aeration following biochar amendment may contribute to this suppression. Soil cores from a Miscanthus X. giganteus plantation were amended with hardwood biochar at a rate of 2% dry soil weight (22 t ha⁻¹). The cores were incubated at three different temperatures (4, 10 and 16 °C) for 126 days, maintained field moist and half subjected to periodic wetting events. Cumulative N₂O production was consistently suppressed by at least 49% with biochar amendment within 48 h of wetting at 10 and 16 °C. We concluded that hardwood biochar suppressed soil N₂O emissions following wetting at a range of field-relevant temperatures over four months. We hypothesised that this was due to biochar increasing soil aeration at relatively high moisture contents by increasing the water holding capacity (WHC) of the soil; however, this hypothesis was rejected. We found that 5% and 10% biochar amendment increased soil WHC. Also, 10% biochar amendment decreased bulk density of the soil. Sealed incubations were performed with biochar added at 0–10 % of dry soil weight and wetted to a uniform 87% WHC (78% WFPS). Cumulative N₂O production within 60 h of wetting was 19, 19, 73 and 98% lower than the biochar-free control in the 1, 2, 5 and 10% biochar treatments respectively. We conclude that high levels of biochar amendment may change soil physical properties, but that the enhancement of soil aeration by biochar incorporation makes only a minimal contribution to the suppression of N₂O emissions from a sandy loam soil. We suggest that microbial or physical immobilisation of NO₃ ⁻ in soil following biochar addition may significantly contribute to the suppression of soil N₂O emissions.