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Nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural fields during winter and spring thaw as affected by management practices

Wagner-Riddle, C., Thurtell, G.W.
Nutrient cycling in agroecosystems 1998 v.52 no.2/3 pp. 151-163
animal manures, agricultural land, winter, spring, thawing, seasonal variation, farm management, nitrous oxide, biogeochemical cycles, crops, nitrogen fertilizers, green manures, fallow, cover crops, overwintering, agricultural soils, emissions, application rate, Ontario
Highest rates of N2O emissions from fertilized as well as natural ecosystems have often been measured at spring thaw. But, it is not clear if management practices have an effect on winter and spring thaw emissions, or if measurements conducted over several years would reveal different emission patterns depending on winter conditions. In this study, we present N2O fluxes obtained using the flux-gradient approach over four winter and spring thaw periods, spanning from 1993 to 1996, at two locations in Ontario, Canada. Several agricultural fields (bare soil, barley, soybean, canola, grass, corn) subjected to various management practices (manure and nitrogen fertilizer addition, alfalfa ploughing, fallowing) were monitored. Nitrous oxide emissions from these fields from January to April over four years ranged between 0 and 4.8 kg N ha-1. These thaw emissions are substantial and should be considered in the nitrous oxide budgets in regions where thaw periods occur. Our study indicates that agricultura1 management can play a role in mitigating these emissions. Our data show that fallowing, manure application and alfalfa incorporation in the fall lead to high spring emissions, while the presence of plants (as in the case of alfalfa or grass) can result in negligible emissions during thaw. This presents an opportunity for mitigation of N2O emissions through the use of over-wintering cover crops.