Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important anthropogenic greenhouse gas and agriculture represents its largest source. It is at the heart of debates over the efficacy of biofuels, the climate-forcing impact of population growth, and the extent to which mitigation of non-CO2 emissions can help avoid dangerous climate change. Here we examine some of the major debates surrounding estimation of agricultural N2O sources, and the challenges of projecting and mitigating emissions in coming decades. We find that current flux estimates using either top-down or bottom-up methods are reasonably consistent at the global scale, but that a dearth of direct measurements in some areas makes national and sub-national estimates highly uncertain. We also highlight key uncertainties in projected emissions and demonstrate the potential for dietary choice and supply-chain mitigation.
Nitrous oxide (N O), a potent greenhouse gas, can be emitted during wastewater treatment, significantly contributing to the greenhouse gas footprint. Measurements at lab-scale and full-scale wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) have demonstrated that N O can be emitted in substantial amounts during nitrogen removal in WWTPs, however, a large variation in reported emission values exists. Analysis of literature data enabled the identification of the most important operational parameters leading to N O emission in WWTPs: (i) low dissolved oxygen concentration in the nitrification and denitrification stages, (ii) increased nitrite concentrations in both nitrification and denitrification stages, and (iii) low COD/N ratio in the denitrification stage. From the literature it remains unclear whether nitrifying or denitrifying microorganisms are the main source of N O emissions. Operational strategies to prevent N O emission from WWTPs are discussed and areas in which further research is urgently required are identified.
Effective mitigation for N2O emissions, now the third most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas and the largest remaining anthropogenic source of stratospheric ozone depleting substances, requires understanding of the sources and how they may increase this century. Here we update estimates and their uncertainties for current anthropogenic and natural N2O emissions and for emissions scenarios to 2050. Although major uncertainties remain, 'bottom-up' inventories and 'top-down' atmospheric modeling yield estimates that are in broad agreement. Global natural N2O emissions are most likely between 10 and 12 Tg N2O-N yr(-1). Net anthropogenic N2O emissions are now about 5.3 Tg N2O-N yr(-1). Gross anthropogenic emissions by sector are 66% from agriculture, 15% from energy and transport sectors, 11% from biomass burning, and 8% from other sources. A decrease in natural emissions from tropical soils due to deforestation reduces gross anthropogenic emissions by about 14%. Business-as-usual emission scenarios project almost a doubling of anthropogenic N2O emissions by 2050. In contrast, concerted mitigation scenarios project an average decline of 22% relative to 2005, which would lead to a near stabilization of atmospheric concentration of N2O at about 350 ppb. The impact of growing demand for biofuels on future projections of N2O emissions is highly uncertain; N2O emissions from second and third generation biofuels could remain trivial or could become the most significant source to date. It will not be possible to completely eliminate anthropogenic N2O emissions from agriculture, but better matching of crop N needs and N supply offers significant opportunities for emission reductions.
Nitrous oxide (N 2 O) emissions from wastewater treatment plants vary substantially between plants, ranging from negligible to substantial (a few per cent of the total nitrogen load), probably because of different designs and operational conditions. In general, plants that achieve high levels of nitrogen removal emit less N 2 O, indicating that no compromise is required between high water quality and lower N 2 O emissions. N 2 O emissions primarily occur in aerated zones/compartments/periods owing to active stripping, and ammonia-oxidizing bacteria, rather than heterotrophic denitrifiers, are the main contributors. However, the detailed mechanisms remain to be fully elucidated, despite strong evidence suggesting that both nitrifier denitrification and the chemical breakdown of intermediates of hydroxylamine oxidation are probably involved. With increased understanding of the fundamental reactions responsible for N 2 O production in wastewater treatment systems and the conditions that stimulate their occurrence, reduction of N 2 O emissions from wastewater treatment systems through improved plant design and operation will be achieved in the near future.
Although it is well established that soils are the dominating source for atmospheric nitrous oxide (N2O), we are still struggling to fully understand the complexity of the underlying microbial production and consumption processes and the links to biotic (e.g. inter- and intraspecies competition, food webs, plant-microbe interaction) and abiotic (e.g. soil climate, physics and chemistry) factors. Recent work shows that a better understanding of the composition and diversity of the microbial community across a variety of soils in different climates and under different land use, as well as plant-microbe interactions in the rhizosphere, may provide a key to better understand the variability of N2O fluxes at the soil-atmosphere interface. Moreover, recent insights into the regulation of the reduction of N2O to dinitrogen (N-2) have increased our understanding of N2O exchange. This improved process understanding, building on the increased use of isotope tracing techniques and metagenomics, needs to go along with improvements in measurement techniques for N2O (and N-2) emission in order to obtain robust field and laboratory datasets for different ecosystem types. Advances in both fields are currently used to improve process descriptions in biogeo-chemical models, which may eventually be used not only to test our current process understanding from the microsite to the field level, but also used as tools for up-scaling emissions to landscapes and regions and to explore feed-backs of soil N2O emissions to changes in environmental conditions, land management and land use.
More than two thirds of global nitrous oxide (N O) emissions originate from soil, mainly associated with the extensive use of nitrogen (N) fertilizers in agriculture. Although the interaction of black carbon with the N cycle has been long recognized, the impact of biochar on N O emissions has only recently been studied. Herein we reflect on proposed hypotheses to explain N O decrease with biochar, linking them to specific mechanisms for N O formation and consumption in soil. Moreover, to assist in elucidating key mechanisms in which biochar may act in mitigating emissions of N O, we undertook a meta-analysis using published literature from 2007 to 2013. This quantitative analysis used 30 studies with 261 experimental treatments. Overall, we found that biochar reduced soil N O emissions by 54% in laboratory and field studies. The biochar feedstock, pyrolysis conditions and C/N ratio were shown to be key factors influencing emissions of N O while a direct correlation was found between the biochar application rate and N O emission reductions. Interactions between soil texture and biochar and the chemical form of N fertilizer applied with biochar were also found to have a major influence on soil N O emissions. While there is clear evidence that, in many cases, emissions of N O are reduced, there is still a significant lack in understanding of the key mechanisms which result in these changed emissions. As such, we have guided readers with suggestions to address specific research gaps, which we anticipate will enhance our knowledge and understanding of biochar's N O emission mitigation potential.
The emissions of climate-relevant nitrous oxides from wastewater treatment with aerobic granular sludge (AGS) are of special interest due to considerable structural as well as microbiological differences compared with flocculent sludge. Due to the compact and large structures, AGS is characterised by the formation of zones with different dissolved oxygen (DO) and substrate gradients, which allows simultaneous nitrification and denitrification (SND). N2O emissions from AGS were investigated using laboratory-scale SBR fed with municipal wastewater. Special attention was paid to the effects of different organic loading rates (OLR) and aeration strategies. Emission factors (EF) were in a range of 0.54% to 4.8% (gN(2)O/gNH(4)-N-ox.) under constant aerobic conditions during the aerated phase and different OLR. Higher OLR and SND were found to increase the N2O emissions. A comparative measurement of two similarly operated SBR with AGS showed that the reactor operated under constant aerobic conditions (DO of 2 mg L-1) emitted more N2O than the SBR with an alternating aeration strategy. Total nitrogen (TN) removal was significantly higher with the alternating aeration since non-aerated periods lead to increased anoxic zones inside the granules. The constant aerobic operation was found to promote the accumulation of NO2-N, which could explain the differences in the N2O levels.
Nitrous oxide (N 2 O) is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and stratospheric ozone destruction. Anthropogenic nitrogen (N) loading to river networks is a potentially important source of N 2 O via microbial denitrification that converts N to N 2 O and dinitrogen (N 2 ). The fraction of denitrified N that escapes as N 2 O rather than N 2 (i.e., the N 2 O yield) is an important determinant of how much N 2 O is produced by river networks, but little is known about the N 2 O yield in flowing waters. Here, we present the results of whole-stream 15 N-tracer additions conducted in 72 headwater streams draining multiple land-use types across the United States. We found that stream denitrification produces N 2 O at rates that increase with stream water nitrate (NO 3 - ) concentrations, but that <1% of denitrified N is converted to N 2 O. Unlike some previous studies, we found no relationship between the N 2 O yield and stream water NO 3 - . We suggest that increased stream NO 3 - loading stimulates denitrification and concomitant N 2 O production, but does not increase the N 2 O yield. In our study, most streams were sources of N 2 O to the atmosphere and the highest emission rates were observed in streams draining urban basins. Using a global river network model, we estimate that microbial N transformations (e.g., denitrification and nitrification) convert at least 0.68 Tg·y -1 of anthropogenic N inputs to N 2 O in river networks, equivalent to 10% of the global anthropogenic N 2 O emission rate. This estimate of stream and river N 2 O emissions is three times greater than estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Permafrost in the Arctic is thawing, exposing large carbon and nitrogen stocks for decomposition. Gaseous carbon release from Arctic soils due to permafrost thawing is known to be substantial, but growing evidence suggests that Arctic soils may also be relevant sources of nitrous oxide (N2O). Here we show that N2O emissions from subarctic peatlands increase as the permafrost thaws. In our study, the highest postthaw emissions occurred from bare peat surfaces, a typical landform in permafrost peatlands, where permafrost thaw caused a fivefold increase in emissions (0.56 +/- 0.11 vs. 2.81 +/- 0.6 mg N2O m(-2) d(-1)). These emission rates match those from tropical forest soils, the world's largest natural terrestrial N2O source. The presence of vegetation, known to limit N2O emissions in tundra, did decrease (by similar to 90%) but did not prevent thaw-induced N2O release, whereas waterlogged conditions suppressed the emissions. We show that regions with high probability for N2O emissions cover one-fourth of the Arctic. Our results imply that the Arctic N2O budget will depend strongly on moisture changes, and that a gradual deepening of the active layer will create a strong noncarbon climate change feedback.
Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas and a key compound in stratospheric ozone depletion. In the ocean, nitrous oxide is produced at intermediate depths through nitrification and denitrification, in particular at low oxygen concentrations. Although a third of natural emissions of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere originate from the ocean, considerable uncertainties in the distribution and magnitude of the emissions still exist. Here we present high-resolution surface measurements and vertical profiles of nitrous oxide that include the highest reported nitrous oxide concentrations in marine surface waters, suggesting that there is a hotspot of nitrous oxide emissions in high-productivity upwelling ecosystems along the Peruvian coast. We estimate that off Peru, the extremely high nitrous oxide supersaturations we observed drive a massive efflux of 0.2-0.9 Tg of nitrogen emitted as nitrous oxide per year, equivalent to 5-22% of previous estimates of global marine nitrous oxide emissions. Nutrient and gene abundance data suggest that coupled nitrification-denitrification in the upper oxygen minimum zone and transport of resulting nitrous oxide to the surface by upwelling lead to the high nitrous oxide concentrations. Our estimate of nitrous oxide emissions from the Peruvian coast surpasses values from similar, highly productive areas.