EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Global environmental controls of land nitrous oxide emissions inferred from field and experimental measurements

Yunke Peng1,2, Iain Colin Prentice3,4, Qing Sun5,6, Fortunat Joos5,6, Nina Buchmann7, and Benjamin D. Stocker6,8
Yunke Peng et al.
  • 1ETH Zurich, Environmental system science, Switzerland (
  • 2Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, Zürcherstrasse 111, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland
  • 3Georgina Mace Centre for the Living Planet, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Buckhurst Road, Ascot SL5 7PY, UK
  • 4Department of Earth System Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
  • 5Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 6Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Falkenplatz 16, 3012 Bern, Switzerland
  • 7Institute of Agricultural Sciences, ETH, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland
  • 8Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Hallerstrasse 12, 3012 Bern, Switzerland

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a greenhouse gas that causes both global warming and ozone depletion in the stratosphere. Global N2O fluxes are likely to change rapidly with global environmental changes (increasing CO2, warming and changes in soil moisture) and are also influenced by nitrogen (N) fertilizer use in agriculture and managed grasslands, atmospheric N deposition, and soil organic carbon (SOC) levels. Environmental dependencies of N2O emissions have been investigated through both field measurements and experimental studies, but disparate results have been obtained. A confrontation of model-simulated N2O emissions against a diversity of observations, from flux measurements and experiments, has not yet been performed.

We compiled data on annual total N2O emissions from published field (n = 214 sites, 835 observations) and experimental (n = 55 sites, 142 observations) studies, and used these data to develop statistical models to model the responses of N2O emission to local N fertilization, climate variables, green vegetation cover and SOC. Using field measurements, we found that N2O emissions from forest soils increase with growth temperature (Tg) and observed soil moisture, likely reflecting higher nitrification and denitrification rates in warmer and wetter soils. In grasslands, we found that N2O emissions increase with N fertilization, and with the seasonal minimum value of fraction of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation (min fAPAR). Lower min fAPAR is associated with grasslands in dry or cold climates that constrain both productivity and the rate of organic matter turnover. In croplands, N2O increases with N fertilization, temperature, and humidity, consistent with the above, but also increases with SOC, and with total incident photosynthetic photon flux density over the growing season (total PPFD) and max fAPAR – two important controls of total annual primary production. The partial response of cropland N2O emission to min fAPAR however is negative, likely reflecting enhanced N2O emission from soil during periods when the crop cover is absent.

In the experimental database, N2O response to elevated CO2 (eCO2) varies strongly across experiments, with log response ratios ranging from ­–2.2 to 1.8. Overall, N2O tends to decrease with eCO2, which is likely due to mineralized N being taken up by more rapidly by faster-growing plants. Response ratios also increase with N fertilization and total PPFD. In warming experiments, response ratios increase with SOC and temperature, consistent with what we found in field measurements.

We have constructed data-driven models that shows significant responses of N2O emission to climate, N fertilization and SOC. We plan to use these as benchmarks for the evaluation of emergent N2O responses to global environmental changes in Earth System models. We will use LPX-Bern, and other models participating in the Global N2O Model Intercomparison Project (NMIP), to compare simulated environmental dependencies of N2O emission with our data-driven models. The data-driven models will also allow us to independently quantify N2O emission factors in croplands, and to compare global N2O-climate and N2O-CO2 feedbacks with previously published values.

How to cite: Peng, Y., Prentice, I. C., Sun, Q., Joos, F., Buchmann, N., and Stocker, B. D.: Global environmental controls of land nitrous oxide emissions inferred from field and experimental measurements, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-3984,, 2023.