Grazing-related nitrous oxide emissions: from patch scale to field scale

Voglmeier, Karl; Six, Johan; Jocher, Markus; Ammann, Christof

Grazed pastures are strong sources of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O). The quantification of N2O emissions is challenging due to the strong spatial and temporal variabilities of the emission sources and so N2O emission estimates are very uncertain. This study presents N2O emission measurements from two grazing systems in western Switzerland over the grazing season of 2016. The 12 dairy cows of each herd were kept in an intensive rotational grazing management. The diet for the two herds of cows consisted of different protein-to-energy ratios (system G: grass only diet; system M: grass with additional maize silage) resulting in different nitrogen (N) excretion rates. The N in the excretion was estimated by calculating the animal nitrogen budget taking into account the measurements of feed intake, milk yield, and body weight of the cow herds. Directly after the rotational grazing phases, background and urine patches were identified based on soil electric conductivity measurements while fresh dung patches were identified visually. The magnitude and temporal pattern of these different emission sources were measured with a fast-box (FB) chamber and the field-scale fluxes were quantified using two eddy covariance (EC) systems. The FB measurements were finally upscaled to the field level and compared to the EC measurements for quality control by using EC footprint estimates of a backward Lagrangian stochastic dispersion model. The comparison between the two grazing systems was performed during emission periods that were not influenced by fertilizer applications. This allowed the calculation of the excreta-related N2O emissions per cow and grazing hour and resulted in considerably higher emissions for system G compared to system M. Relating the found emissions to the excreta N resulted in excreta-related emission factors (EFs) of 0.74±0.26 % for system M and 0.83±0.29 % for system G. These EF values were thus significantly smaller compared to the default EF of 2 % provided by the IPCC guidelines for cattle excreta deposited on pasture. The measurements showed that urine patch emission dominated the field-scale fluxes (57 %), followed by significant background emissions (38 %), and only a small contribution of dung patch emission (5 %). The resulting source-specific EFs exhibited a clear difference between urine (1.12±0.43 %) and dung (0.16±0.06 %), supporting a disaggregation of the grazing-related EFs by excreta type in emission inventories. The study also highlights the advantage of a N-optimized diet, which resulted in reduced N2O emissions from animal excreta.

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Voglmeier, Karl / Six, Johan / Jocher, Markus / et al: Grazing-related nitrous oxide emissions: from patch scale to field scale. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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