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«A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Cornell University In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of ...»

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SPRING-THAW NITROUS OXIDE EMISSIONS FROM REED CANARYGRASS ON WET

MARGINAL SOIL IN NEW YORK STATE

A Thesis

Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School

of Cornell University

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of

Master of Science

by

Cedric Wood Mason

August 2014

 

 

©2014 Cedric Wood Mason

 

 

ABSTRACT

In temperate climates, a significant fraction of annual emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O) from agricultural land occurs during soil thaw. The objective of this study is to determine the impact of conversion of long-term fallow grassland to perennial grass bioenergy crops on N2O emissions during spring-thaw, and to identify field-scale features that influence emissions. We measured mid-afternoon fluxes daily from March 27th to April 7th 2013 from fallow and reed canarygrass over a short topological gradient using static chambers. Soil temperature, volumetric water content, and above-ground biomass were also observed, as were hourly air temperature and precipitation. Hot-moment analysis, non-parametric statistics and modeling results show that in the reed canarygrass, the topologically low subplots exhibited significantly elevated emissions compared to the fallow. Our results suggest that conversion of fallow grassland to perennial grass cropping systems for bioenergy or other uses could increase spring-thaw N2O emissions in wetness prone areas.

   

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Cedric Mason was born in 1981 in Denver Colorado, the second of five children, and lived most of his childhood and adolescence in Massachusetts and Vermont. In school he excelled at physical science and mathematics but also developed and cultivated a strong interest in the natural world. He studied Physics and Music at Franklin and Marshall College, and graduated with a B.A. in 2003.

From 2003 to 2007, Cedric lived in New York City where he worked as a lab assistant at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, helping to conduct paleomagnetic research. In 2007, He returned to Vermont to pursue his growing interest in sustainable agriculture and worked for several years at Cedar Circle Farm on fruit and vegetable production crews.

Cedric moved to Ithaca NY in 2011 to join the Soil and Water Group at Cornell University.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank my parents, Bruce Mason and Melissa Warner for their unwavering support during my first 33 years of my life, and my siblings and friends for helping me through the tough times. I am very grateful to my academic advisor Dr. Tammo Steenhuis, my supervisor and project director Dr. Brian Richards, and to my mentor Dr. Cathelijne Stoof. Thanks to Lauren McPhillips, Shree Giri, and Marina Molodovskaya who provided advice regarding the gas chromatography techniques used in this study. Thanks to the Cornell Cross-scale Biogeochemistry IGERT program for support and resources. This project is funded in part by USDA/NIFA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant number 2010-03869, with additional funds provided through Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).

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Biographical Sketch………………………………………………………………………………iii Acknowledgements…

Table of contents…………………………………………………………………………………..v List of figures…………………………………………………………………………………….vii Preface…………………………………………………………………………………………..viii Spring-thaw nitrous oxide emissions from reed canarygrass on wet marginal soil in New York State………………………………………………………………………………………………..1 Concluding remarks and recommendations……………………………………………...............22 Appendix…………………………………………………………………………………………24 Supplementary Images……………………………………………………..…25 Protocol for sample collection and analysis………………………………......33 Field and lab log…………………………………………………………...…38 Data………………………………………………………………………...…41

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Script 3……………………………………………………100 Script 4…

Script 5…………………………………………………....110 Script 6……………………………………………………116 Works cited………………………………………………….………………………………….117

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Figure 1…

Figure 2……………………………………………………………………………………………7 Figure 3…………………………………………………………………………………………..12 Figure 4………………………………………………………………………………………..…14 Figure 5……………………………………………………………………………………..……15 Supplementary Image 1………………………………………………………………………….26 Supplementary Image 2……………………………………………………………………….....27 Supplementary Image 3……………………………………………………………………….....28 Supplementary Image 4………………………………………………………………………….29 Supplementary Image 5……………………………………………………………………...…..30 Supplementary Image 6………………………………………………………………………….31 Supplementary Image 7………………………………………………………………………….32

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When I first began to study the subject of nitrous oxide emissions from soils, I knew very little about the topic or the various aspects that it relates to. In conducting this research as part of my graduate education, I have found the subject is very multifaceted, and relates to and overlaps with many other areas including crop and soil science, hydrology, microbiology and biochemistry, as well as those of policy and agriculture, and climate change. As a result, this subject of study has been an excellent introduction to the field of Biological and Environmental Engineering and exhibits that this field truly sits at the nexus of human, agricultural, and environmental systems.

The procedures that I describe in this document could be applied to many different situations where terrestrial nitrous oxide emissions are measured. The application here to bioenergy cropping systems is especially relevant in todays world where the human population is rising and the impacts of resource consumption are becoming more evident in the form of environmental deterioration and climate change. It is likely that agriculture will continue to develop in the coming decades as the availability of resources, and the values of our society continue to change. In this context, the findings of this research are valuable for understanding the impacts of agricultural production of perennial grasses for bioenergy and other end uses and hopefully will find a place in guiding the development of agricultural practices and policy.

In this thesis, I provide a final paper of my findings with the hope that it will soon be accepted for publication in a peer-review journal. While the paper is the main focus, I have also included supplementary materials in the appendix that give more information on the methods used for data collection, processing, analysis and interpretation. I also include the raw data that

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source of renewable energy and are currently being studied and developed for expanded use (1).

Life-cycle analysis (LCA) is used to evaluate the overall efficiency of second generation bioenergy streams in comparison to traditional fossil fuels and other bioenergy feedstocks (2). A complete LCA takes into account all costs of production inputs as well as environmental impacts and energy yield. It is presumed that 2nd generation bioenergy crops are more efficient as a feedstock than 1st generation crops such as corn or soy because they require fewer inputs of fossil fuel, fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides and have reduced impacts on soil erosion and ground and surface water pollution and abstraction (2). However, a wide degree of variability has been observed with respect to the environmental performance of 2nd generation bioenergy crops across various sites and climatic conditions (2-4). In addition, little investigation has been conducted into environmental impacts from 2nd generation bioenergy crops grown on sub-prime, wetnessprone farmland in the Northeast U.S. where perennial grasses such as reed canarygrass can be cultivated on marginal soils without competing with food-producing cropland.

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of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) (3). Results from the biogeochemical model DAYCENT show that N2O is the largest GHG source from bioenergy                                                                                                                         * Authors: C. W. Mason, C. Stoof, B. K. Richards, D. G. Rossiter, T. S. Steenhuis

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also degrades earth’s stratospheric ozone layer (6) and is recognized as the primary anthropogenic threat in this regard (7). In 2005, agricultural activities accounted for approximately 60% of global anthropogenic N2O emissions (8); agriculturally managed soils are a primary source (9) with future increases expected due to increased fertilizer and animal manure production globally (8).

N2O is produced in soils by biochemical processes, most significantly as an intermediary product in the stepwise respiratory denitrification of nitrate to N2 gas by soil biota under anaerobic conditions (2, 6, 10). Diffusion of intermediate N2O from the soil before further biochemical reduction results in transmittance of N2O to the atmosphere. Microbial genesis and diffusion of N2O is governed by environmental factors within the soil (such as temperature, moisture, Eh (redox potential), PH, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and inorganic reactive nitrogen) (6, 10) that are in turn determined by primary drivers such as climate, soil properties and vegetation (10). Temporal and landscape scale variation of the primary drivers, their complex linkage to the secondary drivers of microbial metabolism, and the intricate dynamics of microbial communities in soils hinders simple regression analysis that could determine the relationship between agricultural management practices and N2O emissions (10).

However, empirical models that incorporate ecosystem features based on multiple regression and multivariate data analysis have proved successful, even while ignoring microbial community (6). Parameters considered in these approaches include soil type and parent material, climate, vegetation, topography, temperature, soil moisture and concentration of inorganic nitrogen (6). To cope with the highly episodic nature of N2O fluxes from agricultural soils, a “hot-moment” approach has been employed. (11, 12). The hot-moment approach statistically

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annual emissions. Relationships between hot-moments and primary ecosystem parameters can then be explored under the assumption that the requisite conditions for N2O production and atmospheric transmission are present.

In temperate climates, studies have shown that a significant proportion of annual of N2O emissions occur during spring-thaw (11-14) (15-18). It is thought that the primary source of N2O from agricultural soils during freeze-thaw events is de novo production via denitrification, but trapping of N2O produced by denitrifiers within nutrient enriched oxygen depleted liquid water films (19), and below surface ice layers during freezing and subsequent release during thaw (20) may also play a significant role in these emissions (18, 21). De novo production upon thaw is thought to be facilitated by an increased availability of DOC and nitrate from frost-killed microbial necromass, aggregate disruption, and death of fine roots (18, 19), but this is not significant in all cases (22) and may depend in part on soil type. The degree of nutrient turnover and thus N2O production upon soil thaw is thought to be related to the intensity and duration of soil freezing (18, 21) and it has been observed that the presence of crops or crop residue on the soil surface can impact N2O emissions (13, 15, 16, 23). Other management practices of tillage, residue incorporation and fertilizer application have also been shown to affect spring-thaw N2O emissions if the practices were implemented the previous fall (17, 24, 25). Additionally, the water content of the soil upon thaw affects the diffusion of O2 to soil microorganisms and plays an important role in the activity of denitrifiers. Thaw induced fluxes from soils have been shown to occur in the range of 60-90% WFPS (11, 26), with an optimum at about 70% (17, 21), and at temperatures over 5°C (26).

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during spring-thaw, (ii) determine the effect of conversion of marginal, fallow grassland to reed canarygrass (Phalaris Arundinacea) on soil N2O emissions during spring-thaw, and (iii) investigate field-scale factors that can be used to predict these emissions. With regard to objective (iii), we hypothesize that topographic position, and crop type and quantity of aboveground biomass will act on soil moisture and frost-elevated nutrient levels respectively, and these have been shown to influence N2O emissions as discussed above.

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Overview:



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