Denitrification in soil as a function of oxygen availability at the microscale

Rohe, Lena; Apelt, Bernd; Vogel, Hans-Jörg; Well, Reinhard; Wu, Gi-Mick; Schlüter, Steffen

The prediction of nitrous oxide (Ninline-formula2O) and of dinitrogen (Ninline-formula2) emissions formed by biotic denitrification in soil is notoriously difficult due to challenges in capturing co-occurring processes at microscopic scales. Ninline-formula2O production and reduction depend on the spatial extent of anoxic conditions in soil, which in turn are a function of oxygen (Oinline-formula2) supply through diffusion and Oinline-formula2 demand by respiration in the presence of an alternative electron acceptor (e.g. nitrate).

This study aimed to explore controlling factors of complete denitrification in terms of Ninline-formula2O and (Ninline-formula2O inline-formula+ Ninline-formula2) fluxes in repacked soils by taking micro-environmental conditions directly into account. This was achieved by measuring microscale oxygen saturation and estimating the anaerobic soil volume fraction (ansvf) based on internal air distribution measured with X-ray computed tomography (X-ray CT). Oinline-formula2 supply and demand were explored systemically in a full factorial design with soil organic matter (SOM; 1.2 % and 4.5 %), aggregate size (2–4 and 4–8 mm), and water saturation (70 %, 83 %, and 95 % water-holding capacity, WHC) as factors. COinline-formula2 and Ninline-formula2O emissions were monitored with gas chromatography. The inline-formula15N gas flux method was used to estimate the Ninline-formula2O reduction to Ninline-formula2.

N gas emissions could only be predicted well when explanatory variables for Oinline-formula2 demand and Oinline-formula2 supply were considered jointly. Combining COinline-formula2 emission and ansvf as proxies for Oinline-formula2 demand and supply resulted in 83 % explained variability in (Ninline-formula2O inline-formula+ Ninline-formula2) emissions and together with the denitrification product ratio [inline-formulaN2Oinline-formula M24inlinescrollmathml / 8pt14ptsvg-formulamathimgcdb097d754d0791f99b194a2a037445d bg-18-1185-2021-ie00001.svg8pt14ptbg-18-1185-2021-ie00001.png  (inline-formulaN2Oinline-formula+inline-formulaN2)] (pr) 81 % in Ninline-formula2O emissions. Oinline-formula2 concentration measured by microsensors was a poor predictor due to the variability in Oinline-formula2 over small distances combined with the small measurement volume of the microsensors. The substitution of predictors by independent, readily available proxies for Oinline-formula2 demand (SOM) and Oinline-formula2 supply (diffusivity) reduced the predictive power considerably (60 % and 66 % for Ninline-formula2O and (Ninline-formula2Oinline-formula+Ninline-formula2) fluxes, respectively).

The new approach of using X-ray CT imaging analysis to directly quantify soil structure in terms of ansvf in combination with Ninline-formula2O and (Ninline-formula2O inline-formula+ Ninline-formula2) flux measurements opens up new perspectives to estimate complete denitrification in soil. This will also contribute to improving Ninline-formula2O flux models and can help to develop mitigation strategies for Ninline-formula2O fluxes and improve N use efficiency.

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Rohe, Lena / Apelt, Bernd / Vogel, Hans-Jörg / et al: Denitrification in soil as a function of oxygen availability at the microscale. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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