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Prairie wetlands as sources or sinks of nitrous oxide: Effects of land use and hydrology

April 25, 2022

National and global greenhouse gas (GHG) budgets are continually being refined as data become available. Primary sources of the potent GHG nitrous oxide (N2O) include agricultural soil management and burning of fossil fuels, but comprehensive N2O budgets also incorporate less prominent factors such as wetlands. Freshwater wetland GHG flux estimates, however, have high uncertainty, and wetlands have been identified as both sources and sinks. Here, we analyzed a regional database of >26,000 N2O chamber flux measurements sampled across >150 wetlands from the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) in the Great Plains of North America. Our goal was to identify important land use and hydrologic drivers of N2O flux to help reduce uncertainty in N2O models, and to incorporate these drivers into an upscaled estimate of wetland N2O emissions from the U.S. portion of the PPR. Within individual wetlands, exposed soils with no standing water, such as along wetland edges, were hotspots that accounted for greater than 90% of wetland N2O emissions. In contrast wet (i.e., ponded) areas had minimal or negative N2O flux. N2O flux from wetlands nested within croplands (16.3–17.3 μg N2O m−2 hr−1) was, in some instances, nearly double that from wetlands within grasslands (9.2–14.4 μg N2O m−2 h−1). We estimated that seasonal N2O flux from PPR wetlands equated to roughly 0.2% (1.04 Tg CO2 equivalents) of the U.S. N2O budget (c. 2019). Overall, even though PPR wetlands are a small net source of N2O to the atmosphere, their emissions are negligible relative to agricultural soil management. Policy and management to restore wetland hydrology and surrounding uplands from cropland to grasslands can reduce landscape N2O fluxes. Future activities focused on wetland N2O flux would benefit from inclusion of adjacent land use and hydrologic factors, as well as from incorporation of temporally dynamic ponded wetland areas.

Publication Year 2022
Title Prairie wetlands as sources or sinks of nitrous oxide: Effects of land use and hydrology
DOI 10.1016/j.agrformet.2022.108968
Authors Brian Tangen, Sheel Bansal
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Agricultural and Forest Meteorology
Index ID 70230832
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center