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Simulation of soil freezing-thawing cycles under typical winter conditions: implications for nitrogen mineralization

Juan, Yinghua, Tian, Lulu, Sun, Wentao, Qiu, Weiwen, Curtin, Denis, Gong, Liang, Liu, Yan
Journal of soils and sediments 2020 v.20 no.1 pp. 143-152
Luvisols, Phaeozems, World Reference Base for Soil Resources, agricultural soils, ammonium nitrogen, freeze-thaw cycles, freezing point, latitude, microbial biomass, microbial communities, mineralization, nitrate nitrogen, nitrogen, risk, soil water, soil water content, spring, temperate zones, temperature, thawing, winter
PURPOSE: Seasonal freezing-thawing cycles (FTCs) are common phenomena in middle- and high-latitude regions that may have a strong effect on soil nitrogen (N) mineralization. As yet, little information is available about N mineralization of cultivated soils affected by FTCs, especially during non-growing seasons. It is proposed that N transformation of boreal farmland soil should be well responsive to FTCs because their microbial community and physiochemical characteristics are easily influenced by human agricultural activities. To examine this hypothesis, laboratory simulation experiments were carried out to investigate the effects of different amplitudes, frequencies, and moisture regimes of FCTs on soil N mineralization dynamics, to provide a better understanding of the mechanisms influencing the effect of FTCs on soil N availability during the non-growing season. MATERIALS AND METHODS: In a laboratory simulation study, cultivated black soil (BL) and brown soil (BR) (Haplic Phaeozems and Haplic Luvisols, respectively; World Reference Base for Soil Resources 1988) were collected from two provincial experimental stations to assess the dynamics of N mineralization under four FTC factors (five levels for freezing temperature, two levels for thawing temperature, five levels for freezing-thawing frequency, and three levels for soil moisture regime). RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: There were marked variations in inorganic N pools, microbial biomass N (MBN), and net N mineralization rate (NNMR) for both soils during the FTCs. In both soils, ammonium N (NH₄-N) and nitrate N (NO₃-N) concentrations, as well as NNMR, significantly increased with the decrease in freezing temperature, but the opposite was observed for MBN. However, fluctuating thawing temperature had no significant influence on the available N forms measured. As FTCs’ frequency increased, the NH₄-N, NO₃-N concentrations, and NNMR substantially decreased in both soils, while the MBN concentration initially increased and then declined, reaching the peak at the sixth FTC. The available N fractions in both soils had different response patterns as soil water content rose, showing a considerable increase of NH₄-N, a distinct decrease of NO₃-N, a steady increase for NNMR, and an initial increase followed by a decreasing trend for MBN. CONCLUSIONS: This study has demonstrated that FTCs during the non-growing season in temperate regions can accelerate N mineralization via increases in freezing-thawing amplitude and freezing-thawing duration. Therefore, there is a potential risk of N losses over the early spring thawing period.