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Estimating the effect of nitrogen fertilizer on the greenhouse gas balance of soils in Wales under current and future climate

Abdalla, Mohamed, Richards, Mark, Pogson, Mark, Smith, Jo U., Smith, Pete
Regional environmental change 2016 v.16 no.8 pp. 2357-2368
climate, climate change, cropland, farmers, fertilizer rates, forests, funding, grasses, grasslands, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, land use, managers, models, nitrogen, nitrogen fertilizers, nitrous oxide, primary productivity, soil, soil organic carbon, sustainable land management, Wales
The Welsh Government is committed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agricultural systems and combat the effects of future climate change. In this study, the ECOSSE model was applied spatially to estimate GHG and soil organic carbon (SOC) fluxes from three major land uses (grass, arable and forest) in Wales. The aims of the simulations were: (1) to estimate the annual net GHG balance for Wales; (2) to investigate the efficiency of the reduced nitrogen (N) fertilizer goal of the sustainable land management scheme (Glastir), through which the Welsh Government offers financial support to farmers and land managers on GHG flux reduction; and (3) to investigate the effects of future climate change on the emissions of GHG and plant net primary production (NPP). Three climate scenarios were studied: baseline (1961–1990) and low and high emission climate scenarios (2015–2050). Results reveal that grassland and cropland are the major nitrous oxide (N₂O) emitters and consequently emit more GHG to the atmosphere than forests. The overall average simulated annual net GHG balance for Wales under baseline climate (1961–1990) is equivalent to 0.2 t CO₂e ha⁻¹ y⁻¹ which gives an estimate of total annual net flux for Wales of 0.34 Mt CO₂e y⁻¹. Reducing N fertilizer by 20 and 40 % could reduce annual net GHG fluxes by 7 and 25 %, respectively. If the current N fertilizer application rate continues, predicted climate change by the year 2050 would not significantly affect GHG emissions or NPP from soils in Wales.