Articles | Volume 10, issue 3
Biogeosciences, 10, 1309–1321, 2013
Biogeosciences, 10, 1309–1321, 2013

Research article 01 Mar 2013

Research article | 01 Mar 2013

Spatial and temporal variability of N2O emissions in a subtropical forest catchment in China

J. Zhu1, J. Mulder1, L. P. Wu2, X. X. Meng2, Y. H. Wang3, and P. Dörsch1 J. Zhu et al.
  • 1Norwegian University of Life Sciences, postbox 5003, Ås-1432, Norway
  • 2Chongqing Academy of Environmental Sciences and Monitoring, Qi-shan Road 252, Chongqing, 401147, China
  • 3Institute of Forest Ecology, Environment and Protection, Chinese Academy of Forestry, Wan-Shou-Shan, Beijing, 100091, China

Abstract. Subtropical forests in southern China have received chronically large amounts of atmogenic nitrogen (N), causing N saturation. Recent studies suggest that a significant proportion of the N input is returned to the atmosphere, in part as nitrous oxide (N2O). We measured N2O emission fluxes by closed chamber technique throughout two years in a Masson pine-dominated headwater catchment with acrisols (pH ~ 4) at Tieshanping (Chongqing, SW China) and assessed the spatial and temporal variability in two landscape elements typical for this region: a mesic forested hillslope (HS) and a hydrologically connected, terraced groundwater discharge zone (GDZ) in the valley bottom. High emission rates of up to 1800 μg N2O-N m−2 h−1 were recorded on the HS shortly after rain storms during monsoonal summer, whereas emission fluxes during the dry winter season were generally low. Overall, N2O emission was lower in GDZ than on HS, rendering the mesic HS the dominant source of N2O in this landscape. Temporal variability of N2O emissions on HS was largely explained by soil temperature (ST) and moisture, pointing at denitrification as a major process for N removal and N2O production. The concentration of nitrate (NO3) in pore water on HS was high even in the rainy season, apparently never limiting denitrification and N2O production. The concentration of NO3 decreased along the terraced GDZ, indicating efficient N removal, but with moderate N2O-N loss. The extrapolated annual N2O fluxes from soils on HS (0.54 and 0.43 g N2O-N m−2 yr−1 for a year with a wet and a dry summer, respectively) are among the highest N2O fluxes reported from subtropical forests so far. Annual N2O-N emissions amounted to 8–10% of the annual atmogenic N deposition, suggesting that forests on acid soils in southern China are an important, hitherto overlooked component of the anthropogenic N2O budget.

Final-revised paper