The importance of climate change and nitrogen use efficiency for future nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture

David R. Kanter, Xin Zhang, Denise L. Mauzerall, Sergey Malyshev, Elena Shevliakova

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important greenhouse gas and ozone depleting substance. Previous projections of agricultural N2O (the dominant anthropogenic source) show emissions changing in tandem, or at a faster rate than changes in nitrogen (N) consumption. However, recent studies suggest that the carbon dioxide (CO2) fertilization effect may increase plant N uptake, which could decrease soil N losses and dampen increases in N2O. To evaluate this hypothesis at a global scale, we use a process-based land model with a coupled carbon-nitrogen cycle to examine how changes in climatic factors, land-use, and N application rates could affect agricultural N2O emissions by 2050. Assuming little improvement in N use efficiency (NUE), the model projects a 24%-31% increase in global agricultural N2O emissions by 2040-2050 depending on the climate scenario - a relatively moderate increase compared to the projected increases in N inputs (42%-44%) and previously published emissions projections (38%-75%). This occurs largely because the CO2 fertilization effect enhances plant N uptake in several regions, which subsequently dampens N2O emissions. And yet, improvements in NUE could still deliver important environmental benefits by 2050: equivalent to 10 Pg CO2 equivalent and 0.6 Tg ozone depletion potential.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number094003
    JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
    Volume11
    Issue number9
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Aug 30 2016

    Keywords

    • CO2
    • agriculture
    • fertilization
    • nitrogen use efficiency
    • nitrous oxide

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
    • Environmental Science(all)
    • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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