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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2020-294
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2020-294
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  26 Aug 2020

26 Aug 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Impacts of fertilization on grassland productivity and water quality across the European Alps: insights from a mechanistic model

Martina Botter1, Matthias Zeeman2, Paolo Burlando1, and Simone Fatichi3 Martina Botter et al.
  • 1Institute of Environmental Engineering, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Atmospheric Environmental Research, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  • 3Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Abstract. Alpine grasslands sustain local economy providing fodder for livestock. Intensive fertilization is common to enhance their yields, thus creating negative externalities on water quality that are difficult to evaluate without reliable estimates of nutrient fluxes. We apply a 1-D mechanistic ecosystem model, seamlessly integrating land-surface energy balance, soil hydrology, vegetation dynamics, and soil biogeochemistry aiming at assessing the grassland response to fertilization. We simulate the major water, carbon, nutrient, and energy fluxes of nine grassland plots across the broad European Alpine region. We provide an unprecedent interdisciplinary model evaluation confirming its performance against observed variables from different datasets. Subsequently, we apply the model to test the influence of fertilization practices on grassland yields and nitrate (NO3) losses through leaching. Despite the generally low NO3 concentration in groundwater recharge, the variability across sites is remarkable, mostly, but not exclusively, dictated by elevation. In high-Alpine sites short growing seasons lead to less efficient nitrogen (N) uptake for biomass production. This combined with lower evapotranspiration rates results in higher amounts of drainage and NO3 leaching to groundwater. The local soil hydrology has a crucial role in driving the NO3 use efficiency. The commonly applied fixed-threshold limit on fertilizer N input is suboptimal. We suggest that major hydrological and soil property differences across sites should be considered in the delineation of best practices or regulations for management. Using distributed maps informed with key soil and climatic attributes or systematically implementing integrated ecosystem models as shown here can contribute to achieving more sustainable practices.

Martina Botter et al.

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Martina Botter et al.

Martina Botter et al.

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