Dynamics of upward and downward N2O and CO2 fluxes in ploughes or no-tilled soils in relation to water-filled pore space, compaction and crop presence

BC Ball, I Crichton, GW Horgan

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Sharp peaks in nitrous oxide (N2O) fluxes under no-tillage in wet conditions appear to be related to near surface soil and crop cover conditions. Here we explored some of the factors influencing tillage effects on short-term variations in gas flux so that we could learn about the mechanisms involved. Field investigations revealed that a cumulative emission of 13 kg N2O–N ha 1 over a 12-week period was possible under no-tillage for spring barley. We investigated how reducing crop cover and changing the structural arrangement of the water-filled pore space (WFPS) by short-term laboratory compaction influenced N2O and carbon dioxide (CO2) fluxes in upward and downward directions in core samples from tilled and untilled soil. Increasing the downward flux of N2O within a soil profile by changing soil or moisture conditions may increase the likelihood of its further reduction to N2 or dissolution. We took undisturbed cores from 3 to 8 cm depth, equilibrated them to 1 or 6 kPa matric potential, incubated them and measured N2O and CO2 fluxes from the upper and lower surfaces in a purpose-designed apparatus before and after compaction in an uniaxial tester. We also measured WFPS, air permeability, bulk density and air-filled porosity before and after compaction. Spring barley was tested in 1999 and winter barley in 2000. Fluxes of N2O were from 1.5 to 35 times higher from no-tilled than ploughed even where the soil was of similar bulk density. Reduction of the crop cover increased CO2 flux and could reduce N2O flux. The effects of structural changes induced by laboratory compaction on the fluxes of N2O and CO2 were not influenced greatly by the tillage and crop cover treatments. Fluxes from the upper surfaces of cores (corresponding to 3 cm soil depth, upwards direction) could be up to 100 times greater (N2O) or 8 times (CO2) than from the lower surfaces (8 cmdepth, downwards direction). These differences between surfaces were greatest when N2O fluxes were very high in no-tilled soil (4.2 mg N2O–N m 2 h 1) as occurred when WFPS exceeded 80% or became blocked with water, an effect that was increased by our compaction treatment. In general N2O fluxes increased with WFPS. The production and emission of N2O were strongly influenced by the soil physical environment, the magnitude of the water-filled pore space and continuity of the air-filled pore space in particular, produced in no-till versus plough cultivation. 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20 - 30
Number of pages11
JournalSoil and Tillage Research
Issue number1-2
Publication statusFirst published - 2008

Bibliographical note



  • Air permeability
  • Compaction
  • Laboratory incubation
  • Protease enzyme
  • Undisturbed cores
  • Water-filled pore space


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