Quantifying N2O reduction to N2 based on N2O isotopocules – validation with independent methods (helium incubation and 15N gas flux method)
Abstract. Stable isotopic analyses of soil-emitted N2O (δ15Nbulk, δ18O and δ15Nsp = 15N site preference within the linear N2O molecule) may help to quantify N2O reduction to N2, an important but rarely quantified process in the soil nitrogen cycle. The N2O residual fraction (remaining unreduced N2O, rN2O) can be theoretically calculated from the measured isotopic enrichment of the residual N2O. However, various N2O-producing pathways may also influence the N2O isotopic signatures, and hence complicate the application of this isotopic fractionation approach.
Here this approach was tested based on laboratory soil incubations with two different soil types, applying two reference methods for quantification of rN2O: helium incubation with direct measurement of N2 flux and the 15N gas flux method. This allowed a comparison of the measured rN2O values with the ones calculated based on isotopic enrichment of residual N2O. The results indicate that the performance of the N2O isotopic fractionation approach is related to the accompanying N2O and N2 source processes and the most critical is the determination of the initial isotopic signature of N2O before reduction (δ0). We show that δ0 can be well determined experimentally if stable in time and then successfully applied for determination of rN2O based on δ15Nsp values. Much more problematic to deal with are temporal changes of δ0 values leading to failure of the approach based on δ15Nsp values only. For this case, we propose here a dual N2O isotopocule mapping approach, where calculations are based on the relation between δ18O and δ15Nsp values. This allows for the simultaneous estimation of the N2O-producing pathways' contribution and the rN2O value.