Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 90, Issue 2, pp 243–252 | Cite as

GIS-model based estimation of nitrogen leaching from croplands of China

  • Jianjun QiuEmail author
  • Hu Li
  • Ligang Wang
  • Huajun Tang
  • Changsheng Li
  • Eric Van Ranst
Original Article


Nitrogen (N) is the most widely used fertilizer nutrient, and its application has increased substantially in recent decades in China. N loss through leaching has been recognized as one of the most common agricultural sources of groundwater contamination. Thus, prediction of N leaching from cropland is crucial for preventing groundwater pollution. This paper quantifies nitrogen leaching from China’s croplands, identifies its spatial distribution under current cropping systems at national scale, and finally puts forward some policies or strategies to reduce rates of N leaching. A computer process simulation model of carbon and nitrogen biogeochemistry in agro-ecosystems (DNDC) was applied to predict nitrogen leaching in the soil layer of agricultural ecosystems at national scale. Data on climate, soil properties, cropping systems, acreage, and management practices at county scale were collected from various sources and integrated into a spatial GIS database to run the model. The total amount of N-leaching was predicted at 4.57 million t N/year, which is equivalent to 48 kg N per ha cropland in 1998. The spatial distribution of N leaching in China showed a sharp discrepancy between the northern and southern counties due to the differences in climatic conditions, soil properties, as well as farm management practices. The study also suggests that applying management alternatives, such as proper fertilizer, crop, water and soil management, could be efficient means for decreasing N leaching rates.


Nitrogen leaching Croplands of China DNDC model Spatial distribution 



Support for this study was provided by a bilateral scientific cooperation project financed by Ghent University-BOF, Belgium and Ministry of Science and Technology of China, as well by Non-profit Research Foundation for Agriculture (200803036). The participation of Changsheng Li in the study was supported by NASA’s Interdisciplinary Sciences (IDS) program and NSF’s project “Understanding linkages between human and biogeochemical processes in agricultural landscapes”.


  1. Babiker S, Mohamed A, Terao H, Kato K, Ohta K (2004) Assessment of groundwater contamination by nitrate leaching from intensive vegetable cultivation using geographical information system. Environ Int 29(8):1009–1017Google Scholar
  2. Beheydt D, Boeckx P, Sleutel S, Li C, Van Cleemput O (2007) Validation of DNDC for 22 long-term N2O field emission measurements. Atmos Environ 41:6196–6211. doi: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2007.04.003 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berstrom L, Johansson R (2001) Leaching of nitrate from monolith lysimeters of different types of agricultural soils. J Environ Qual 20:801–807Google Scholar
  4. Butterbach-Bahl K, Stange F, Papen H, Li C (2001) Regional inventory of nitric oxide and nitrous oxide emissions for forest soils of southeast Germany using the biogeochemical model PnET-N-DNDC. J Geophys Res 106(D24):34155–34166Google Scholar
  5. Clapp RB, Hornberger GM (1978) Empirical equations for some soil hydraulic properties. Water Resour Res 14:601–604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cui J, Li C, Sun G, Trettin C (2005) Linkage of MIKE SHE to Wetland-DNDC for carbon budgeting and anaerobic biogeochemistry simulation. Biogeochemistry 72:147–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Franko U (1996) Modeling approaches of soil organic carbon turnover within the CANDYsystem. In: Powlson D, Smith P, Smith JU (eds) Evaluation of soil organic matter models using existing long-term datasets. NATO ASI series I, vol 38. Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg, pp 247–254Google Scholar
  8. Giles J (2005) Nitrogen study fertilizes fears of pollution. Nature 433:791PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Grant B, Smith WN, Desjardins R, Lemkc R, Li C (2004) Estimated N2O and CO2 emissions as influenced by agricultural practices in Canada. Clim Change 65(3):315–332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jenkinson DS (1990) The turnover of organic carbon and nitrogen in soil. Philos Trans Roy Soc London 329:361–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Khosla R, Fleming K, Delgado JA, Shaver T, Westfall D (2002) Use of site specific management zones to improve nitrogen management for precision agriculture. Soil Water Conserv 57:513–518Google Scholar
  12. Kiese R, Li C, Hilbert D, Papen H, Butterbach-Bahl K (2005) Regional application of PnET-N-DNDC for estimating the N2O source strength of tropical rainforests in the Wet Tropics of Australia. Global Change Biol 11:128–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kuo S, Jellum EJ (2000) Long-term winter cover cropping effects on corn (Zea mays L.) production and soil nitrogen availability. Biol Fertil Soils 31:470–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Li CS, Frolking S, Frolking TA (1992) A model of nitrous oxide evolution from soil driven rainfall events: 1 Model structure and sensitivity. J Geophys Res 97:9759–9776Google Scholar
  15. Li CS, Frolking S, Harris R (1994) Modeling carbon biogeochemistry in agricultural soils. Global Biogeochem Cycl 8: 237–254Google Scholar
  16. Li C, Narayanan V, Harriss R (1996) Nitrous oxide emission in 1990 from agriculture lands in the United States. Global Biogeochem Cycles 10:297–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Li C (2000) Modeling trace gas emissions from agricultural ecosystems. Nutrient Cycl Agroecosyst 58:259–276Google Scholar
  18. Li C, Qiu J, Frolking S, Xiao X, Salas W, Moore B, Boles S, Huang Y, Sass R (2002) Reduced methane emissions from large-scale changes in water management of China’s rice paddies during 1980–2000. Geophys Res Lett 29(20):1972. doi: 101029/2002GL015370 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Li XX, Hu CS, Herbert SJ (2004) Leaching loss of nitrate during the wheat growing season in Piedmont of Mountain Taihang. Chin J Eco-Agric 12:83–85 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  20. Li C, Farahbakhshazadb N, Jaynesc DB, Dinnesc DL, Salasd W, McLaughlinb D (2006) Modeling nitrate leaching with a biogeochemical model modified based on observations in a row-crop field in Iowa. Ecol Modell 196:116–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Li H, Wang L, Qiu J (2009) Application of DNDC model in estimating cropland nitrate leaching. Chin J Appl Ecol 20(7):1591–1596Google Scholar
  22. Li H, Qiu J, Wang L, Tang H, Li C, Van Ranst E (2010) Modelling impacts of alternative farming management practices on greenhouse gas emissions from a winter wheat–maize rotation system in China. Agric Ecosyst Environ 135:24–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lu D, Tong Y, Sun B (1998) Study on effect of nitrogen fertilizer use on environment pollution. Plant Nutr Fertil Sci 4(1):8–15Google Scholar
  24. McLay CDA, Dragten R, Sparling G, Selvarajah N (2001) Predicting groundwater nitrate concentrations in a region of mixed agricultural land use, a comparison of three approaches. Environ Pollut 115:191–204PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ministry of Land and Resources (2003) Communiqué on land and resources of China 2001.
  26. Molina JAE, Clapp CE, Shaffer MJ, Chichester FW, Larson WE (1983) NCSOIL, a model of nitrogen and carbon transformations in soil: description, calibration, and behavior. Soil Sci Soc Am J 47:85–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mueller T, Jensen LS, Hansen S, Nielsen NE (1996) Simulating soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics with the soil–plant–atmosphere system model DAISY. In: Powlson D, Smith P, Smith JU (eds) Evaluation of soil organic matter models using existing long-term datasets. NATO ASI series I, vol 38. Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg, pp 275–282Google Scholar
  28. Norse D (2005) Non- point pollution from crop production, Global, regional and national issues. Pedosphere 15:499–508Google Scholar
  29. Parton WJ, Hartman M, Ojima D, Schimel D (1998) DAYCENT and its land surface submodel: description and testing. Global Planet Change 19:35–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pathak H, Li C, Wassmann R (2005) Greenhouse gas emissions from Indian rice fields: calibration and upscaling using the DNDC model. Biogeosciences 2:113–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Qiu J, Frolking S, Boles S (2003) Combining remote sensing and ground census data to develop new maps of the distribution of cropland in China. Geocarto Int 18(2):3–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Qiu J, Li C, Tang H (2004) Study on the situation of soil organic carbon storage in eco-tone between agriculture and animal husbandry, an Inner Mongolia case study. Chin J Eco-Agric 11(4):86–88 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  33. Qiu J, Wang L, Tang H, Li H, Li C (2005) Studies on the situation of soil organic carbon storage in croplands in northeast of China. Chin Agric Sci 4(8):594–600Google Scholar
  34. Qiu J, Li C, Wang L, Tang H, Li H, Van Ranst E (2009) Modeling impacts of carbon sequestration on net greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural soils in China. Global Biogeochem Cycles 23:1–16. doi: 10.1029/2008GB003180GB1007 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Shoji S, Delgado JA, Mosier A (2001) Use of controlled release fertilizers and nitrification inhibitors to increase nitrogen use efficiency and to conserve air and water quality. Comm Soil Sci Plant Anal 32:1051–1070CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Smith P, Smith JU, Powlson DS (1997) A comparison of the performance of nine soil organic matter models using datasets from seven long-term experiments. Geoderma 81:153–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Smith WN, Grant BB, Desjardins RL et al (2008) Evaluation of two process-based models to estimate N2O emissions in eastern Canada. Can J Soil Sci 15:31–51Google Scholar
  38. State Statistical Bureau of China (1999) China Statistical Yearbook Beijing, China Statistical Press, 1998Google Scholar
  39. Sun B, Chen DL, Li Y, Wang XX (2008) Nitrogen leaching in an upland cropping system on an acid soil in subtropical China, lysimeter measurements and simulation. Nut Cycl Agroecosyst 81:291–303Google Scholar
  40. Tang L, Bai D (2003) Effect of agricultural non-point source pollution on water environment. Environ Prot 3:18–20 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  41. Tang H, Qiu J, Van Ranst E, Li C (2006) Estimations of soil organic carbon storage in cropland of China based on DNDC model. Geoderma 134:200–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. The Office for the Second National Soil Survey of China (ed) (1995) Soil map of People’s Republic of China. Mapping Press, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  43. Tilman D, Fragione J, Wolff B et al (2001) Forecasting agriculturally driven global environmental change. Science 292:281–284PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wang L, Qiu J, Tang H, Li H, Li C, Van Ranst E (2008) Modelling soil organic carbon dynamics in the major agricultural regions of China. Geoderma 147:47–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Xu WB, Hong YT, Chen XH, Li CS (1999) Study on the emission of N2O in agricultural land-a case of Guizhou Province. Ch Sci (D) 29(5):450–456 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  46. Zhang Y, Li C, Trettin C (2002) An integrated model of soil, hydrology, and vegetation for carbon dynamics in wetland ecosystems. Global Biogeochem Cycles 16(4):512–525CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Zhang W, Wu S, Ji H (2004) Estimation of agricultural non-point source pollution in China and the alleviating strategies, I Estimation of agricultural non-point source pollution in China in early 21 century. Scientia Agricultura Sinica 37(7):1008–1017 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  48. Zhu A, Zhang J, Zhao B, Cheng Z, Li L (2005) Water balance and nitrate leaching losses under intensive crop production with Ochric Aquic Cambosols in North China Plain. Environ Int 31:904–912PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jianjun Qiu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Hu Li
    • 1
  • Ligang Wang
    • 1
  • Huajun Tang
    • 1
  • Changsheng Li
    • 2
  • Eric Van Ranst
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Agricultural Resources and Regional Planning, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS)/Key Laboratory of Resources Remote Sensing and Digital Agriculture, Ministry of AgricultureBeijingChina
  2. 2.Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and SpaceUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Department of Geology and Soil Science (WE13), Laboratory of Soil ScienceGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

Personalised recommendations