Soil drying and wetting cycles can produce pulses of nitric oxide (NO) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions with substantial effects on both regional air quality and Earth’s climate. While pulsed production of N emissions is ubiquitous across ecosystems, the processes governing pulse magnitude and timing remain unclear. We studied the processes producing pulsed NO and N2O emissions at two contrasting drylands, desert and chaparral, where despite the hot and dry conditions known to limit biological processes, some of the highest NO and N2O flux rates have been measured. We measured N2O and NO emissions every 30 min for 24 h after wetting soils with isotopically-enriched nitrate and ammonium solutions to determine production pathways and their timing. Nitrate was reduced to N2O within 15 min of wetting, with emissions exceeding 1000 ng N–N2O m−2 s−1and returning to background levels within four hours, but the pulse magnitude did not increase in proportion to the amount of ammonium or nitrate added. In contrast to N2O, NO was emitted over 24 h and increased in proportion to ammonium addition, exceeding 600 ng N–NO m−2 s−1in desert and chaparral soils. Isotope tracers suggest that both ammonia oxidation and nitrate reduction produced NO. Taken together, our measurements demonstrate that nitrate can be reduced within minutes of wetting summer-dry desert soils to produce large N2O emission pulses and that multiple processes contribute to long-lasting NO emissions. These mechanisms represent substantial pathways of ecosystem N loss that also contribute to regional air quality and global climate dynamics.
In seasonally dry ecosystems, which are common in sub‐Saharan Africa, precipitation after dry periods can cause large pulses of nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas, and of nitric oxide (NO), a precursor to tropospheric ozone pollution. Agricultural practices can change soil characteristics, affecting trace N gas emissions. To evaluate the effects of land use on trace gas pulses at the start of the rainy season, we conducted laboratory measurements of N2O and NO fluxes from soils collected from four pairs of agricultural and natural savannah sites across the Sudano‐Sahelian zone. We also conducted in situ wetting experiments, measuring NO fluxes from fallow sandy soils in Tanzania and NO and N2O fluxes from clayey soils in Kenya with different histories of fertilizer use. In incubation studies, NO increased by a factor of 7 to 25 following wetting, and N2O fluxes shifted from negative to positive; cumulative NO fluxes were an order of magnitude larger than cumulative N2O fluxes. In Kenya and Tanzania, NO increased by 1 to 2 orders of magnitude after wetting, and N2O increased by a factor of roughly 5 to 10. Cumulative NO fluxes ranged from 87 to 115 g NO‐N ha−1across both countries—a substantial proportion of annual emissions—compared to roughly 1 g N2O‐N in Kenya. There were no effects of land use or fertilization history on the magnitude of NO or N2O pulses, though land use may have been confounded with differences in soil texture potentially limiting the ability to detect land use effects.more » « less
- Award ID(s):
- NSF-PAR ID:
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- DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
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- Journal Name:
- Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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