Decomposing leaves a source of greenhouse gases


This new discovery can refine nitrous oxide emission predictions well and guide future agriculture and soil management practices. Michigan State University scientists identified new source of nitrous oxide, greenhouse gases that’s more power than carbon dioxide.

It’s difficult to study entire field as a source of greenhouse gas emissions. When the source is grams of soil harboring decomposing leaves. Changing the view from binoculars to microscopes will help improve N2O emission predictions. Which traditionally are about 50 percent accurate, at best. Nitrous oxide’s global warming potential 300 times greater carbon dioxide, and emissions largely driven by agricultural practices.

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Partnership with university of chicago

To open secrets of N2O hotspots took soil samples from MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station Long-term Ecological Research site. In partnership with scientists from the University of Chicago at Argonne National Laboratory. Examined the samples at Argonne’s synchrotron scanning facilities, a much more powerful version of a medical CT scanner. The powerful X-ray scanner penetrating into soil allowing team to accurately characterize environments N2O produced and emitted.

“We found that hotspot emissions happen only when large soil pores are present” says Sasha Kravchenko,lead author of the study. The leaf particles act as tiny sponges in soil. Soaking up water from large pores to create a micro-habitat perfect for the bacteria that produce nitrous oxide.

N2O produced areas smaller pores are present. Small pores in clay soils hold water more tightly it can’t be soaked up by leaf particles. Without additional moisture bacteria aren’t able to produce as much nitrous oxide. Similarly, small pores make it harder for gas produced to leave soil before being consumed by other bacteria.

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In addition this study looked at the geometry of pores in soils as a key variable that affects how nitrogen moves through those soils. Knowing this information will lead to new ways of reducing the emission of nitrous oxide from agricultural soils.

More specifically, future research will review which plant leaves contribute to higher N2O emissions. Plants with more nitrogen in their leaves, such as soybeans, will more than likely give off more N2O as their leaves decompose. Researchers also will look at leaf and root characteristics and see how they influence emissions.