Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 106, Issue 3, pp 335–345 | Cite as

Stand age affects emissions of N2O in flood-irrigated alfalfa: a comparison of field measurements, DNDC model simulations and IPCC Tier 1 estimates

  • Martin BurgerEmail author
  • Van R. Haden
  • Han Chen
  • Johan Six
  • William R. Horwath
Original Article


Predicting N2O emissions in perennial legume systems, such as alfalfa (Medicago sativa), is challenging due to the uncertainty regarding the interaction of biologically fixed nitrogen (N) with carbon sources, soil properties, and management factors. We measured alfalfa yields, N2O fluxes, and soil variables in adjacent flood-irrigated commercial fields with 2nd and 5th year stands of alfalfa planted in clay soil in California during one year. Cumulative annual N2O emissions from the 5th year alfalfa stand were 5.26 (±0.55 standard error) kg N2O–N ha−1 and more than twice as large as those in the adjacent 2nd year stand, which were 2.26 (±0.25) kg N2O–N ha−1. Annual yields of the 5th and 2nd year alfalfa stands were 12.1 and 14.1 Mg dry matter ha−1, respectively. Annual emissions calculated according to current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2006) methodology underestimated emissions by 74% (2nd year stand) and 90% (5th year stand), which highlights the limitation of estimating N2O emissions based solely on the biomass N inputs incorporated into the soil. The DeNitrification-DeComposition (DNDC) model, using as inputs soil properties, water inputs, yield potential, and climate data accurately predicted cumulative annual N2O emissions from both the 5th year (5.6 kg N2O–N ha−1) and the 2nd year (2.2 kg N2O–N ha−1) alfalfa stands, although there were discrepancies between measured and modeled daily flux values. The potential accumulation and mineralization of organic matter as a result of alfalfa root turnover is the most likely explanation for the increase in N2O emissions with stand age.


Root turnover Carbon availability Dissolved organic carbon Nitrogen mineralization 



This research was supported by the California Air Resources Board, Contract No. 09-325, and the J.G. Boswell Endowed Chair in Soil Science. We thank Karen Adler, Nick Monte, and Travis Wilson for their assistance in the data collection and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10705_2016_9808_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (40 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 40 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Land, Air, and Water ResourcesUniversity of California DavisDavisUSA
  2. 2.Agricultural Technical InstituteThe Ohio State UniversityWoosterUSA
  3. 3.Key Lab for Earth System Numerical Simulation, Center for Earth System ScienceTsinghua UniversityBeijingChina
  4. 4.Department of Environmental Systems ScienceETH ZürichZürichSwitzerland

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