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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 37 No. 4, p. 1360-1367
    Received: June 1, 2007

    * Corresponding author(s): rod.venterea@ars.usda.gov


Profile Analysis and Modeling of Reduced Tillage Effects on Soil Nitrous Oxide Flux

  1. Rodney T. Venterea * and
  2. Adam J. Stanenas
  1. USDA-ARS, Soil and Water Research Management Unit, 1991 Upper Buford Cir., 439 Borlaug Hall, St. Paul, MN 55108. Mention of product names is for the convenience of the reader and implies no endorsement on the part of the author or the USDA


The impact of no-till (NT) and other reduced tillage (RT) practices on soil to atmosphere fluxes of nitrous oxide (N2O) are difficult to predict, and there is limited information regarding strategies for minimizing fluxes from RT systems. We measured vertical distributions of key microbial, chemical, and physical properties in soils from a long-term tillage experiment and used these data as inputs to a process-based model that accounts for N2O production, consumption, and gaseous diffusion. The results demonstrate how differences among tillage systems in the stratification of microbial enzyme activity, chemical reactivity, and other properties can control N2O fluxes. Under nitrification-dominated conditions, simulated N2O emissions in the presence of nitrite (NO2) were 2 to 10 times higher in NT soil compared to soil under conventional tillage (CT). Under denitrification-dominated conditions in the presence of nitrate (NO3), higher bulk density and water content under NT promoted higher denitrification rates than CT. These effects were partially offset by higher soluble organic carbon and/or temperature and lower N2O reduction rates under CT. The NT/CT ratio of N2O fluxes increased as NO2 or NO3 was placed closer to the surface. The highest NT/CT ratios of N2O flux (>30:1) were predicted for near-surface NO3 placement, while NT/CT ratios < 1 were predicted for NO3 placement below 15 cm. These results suggest that N2O fluxes from RT systems can be minimized by subsurface fertilizer placement and by using a chemical form of fertilizer that does not promote substantial NO2 accumulation.

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