Nitrogenous gas emissions from soils and greenhouse gas effects.

Gregorich, E.G., Janzen, H.H., Helgason, B.L., and Ellert, B.H. (2015). "Nitrogenous gas emissions from soils and greenhouse gas effects.", Advances in Agronomy (Book series), 132, pp. 39-74. doi : 10.1016/bs.agron.2015.02.004  Access to full text


The Haber–Bosch process for synthesizing fertilizer nitrogen (N) is among the most important modern discoveries because it has enabled us to grow enough food for several billion more of us. At the same time, however, profusion of added “reactive” N has become a prominent ecological threat, globally, because a large fraction of applied N is lost from agricultural ecosystems. Nitrogen added to agricultural soils, in organic forms or as synthetic N fertilizers, has one of four fates; it can be assimilated by plants, lost to surface- or groundwater, retained in the soil, or lost to the atmosphere. The last of these is particularly worrisome because of links to climate change and other threats to the biosphere. Our aim is to summarize briefly the processes of atmospheric N emissions to the air from agricultural ecosystems, and to consider how management practices might reduce those emissions. Nitrogen gases emitted from soil emanate from naturally occurring biological processes regulated largely by three interactive factors: substrate availability, aeration, and temperature. Although these factors are partly dictated by weather and intrinsic soil properties, they are also influenced by management so that emissions can be heavily influenced by practices imposed on the land. Variables to consider in devising systems with reduced emissions include: forms, rate, and timing of fertilizer; tillage and residue management; crop rotation, including the use of legumes; and manuring practices. All of these need to be considered together to devise systems, tuned to local conditions, which not only reduce emissions but also meet growing demands for agricultural yields. Developing such systems, based on holistic understanding from many disciplines, is now critical to sustain the long-term productivity and vitality of our ecosystems.

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