Articles | Volume 12, issue 21
Research article
10 Nov 2015
Research article |  | 10 Nov 2015

Global soil nitrous oxide emissions in a dynamic carbon-nitrogen model

Y. Huang and S. Gerber

Abstract. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important greenhouse gas that also contributes to the depletion of stratospheric ozone. Due to its high temporal and spatial heterogeneity, a quantitative understanding of terrestrial N2O emission and its variabilities and responses to climate change are challenging. We added a soil N2O emission module to the dynamic global land model LM3V-N, and tested its sensitivity to mechanisms that affect the level of mineral nitrogen (N) in soil such as plant N uptake, biological N fixation, amount of volatilized N redeposited after fire, and nitrification-denitrification. We further tested the relationship between N2O emission and soil moisture, and assessed responses to elevated CO2 and temperature. Results extracted from the corresponding gridcell (without site-specific forcing data) were comparable with the average of cross-site observed annual mean emissions, although differences remained across individual sites if stand-level measurements were representative of gridcell emissions. Processes, such as plant N uptake and N loss through fire volatilization that regulate N availability for nitrification-denitrification have strong controls on N2O fluxes in addition to the parameterization of N2O loss through nitrification and denitrification. Modelled N2O fluxes were highly sensitive to water-filled pore space (WFPS), with a global sensitivity of approximately 0.25 TgN per year per 0.01 change in WFPS. We found that the global response of N2O emission to CO2 fertilization was largely determined by the response of tropical emissions with reduced N2O fluxes in the first few decades and increases afterwards. The initial reduction was linked to N limitation under higher CO2 level, and was alleviated through feedbacks such as biological N fixation. The extratropical response was weaker and generally positive, highlighting the need to expand field studies in tropical ecosystems. We did not find synergistic effects between warming and CO2 increase as reported in analyses with different models. Warming generally enhanced N2O efflux and the enhancement was greatly dampened when combined with elevated CO2, although CO2 alone had a small effect. The differential response in the tropics compared to extratropics with respect to magnitude and sign suggests caution when extrapolating from current field CO2 enrichment and warming studies to the globe.

Short summary
The prediction of the greenhouse gas N2O from natural soils globally is sensitive to the representation of soil water. Factors that regulate nitrogen retention and nitrogen limitation, including fire and biological nitrogen fixation are further influencing the N2O gas production. Responses to warming and CO2 increase are strongly controlled by tropical soils. Therefore extrapolation of mostly extra-tropical field studies the globe warrants caution.
Final-revised paper