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Effects of Saline Water Irrigation and N Application Rate on NH3 Volatilization and N use Efficiency in a Drip-Irrigated Cotton Field

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Ammonia (NH3) volatilization is one of the main pathways of N loss from farmland soil. Saline water irrigation can have direct or indirect effects on soil NH3 volatilization, N leaching, and crop N uptake. This study was conducted to evaluate the effects of irrigation water salinity and urea-N application rate on NH3 volatilization and N use efficiency in a drip-irrigated cotton field. The experiment consisted of three levels of irrigation water salinity: fresh water, brackish water, and saline water (electrical conductivities of 0.35, 4.61, and 8.04 dS/m, respectively). The N application rates were 0, 240, 360, and 480 kg/ha. The results showed that soil salinity and soil moisture content were significantly higher in the saline water treatment than in either the fresh or brackish water treatments. Irrigation water salinity significantly increased soil NH4-N concentration, but NO3-N concentration decreased as water salinity increased. The amount of N leaching varied from 5.0 to 25.5 kg/ha, accounting for 1.81 to 4.79 % of the urea-N applied under different water salinity and N application rate treatments. Both the amount of N leaching and the proportions of applied N lost through leaching significantly increased as water salinity increased. N application increased the amounts of N leaching, but the ratios of applied N were not affected by N application rate. Soil NH3 volatilization increased rapidly after urea fertigation, and peaked at 1–2 days after N application, then decreased rapidly. The amount of NH3 volatilization varied from 9.0 to 33.7 kg/ha, accounting for 3.2 to 3.8 % of the N applied in all treatments. Soil NH3 volatilization was significantly higher in the saline water treatment than that in either the fresh or the brackish water treatments. Cotton N uptake increased significantly as N application rate increased, but decreased with irrigation water salinity increased. In conclusion, saline water irrigation with high N application rate induced high N leaching and NH3 volatilization losses, thereby dramatically reducing the apparent N recovery (ANR) of cotton.

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This work was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31360504) and the Innovative Research Foundation for Excellent Young Scientists of Xinjiang Production and Construction Crops, China (2014CD002).

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Correspondence to Zhenan Hou.

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Zhou, G., Zhang, W., Ma, L. et al. Effects of Saline Water Irrigation and N Application Rate on NH3 Volatilization and N use Efficiency in a Drip-Irrigated Cotton Field. Water Air Soil Pollut 227, 103 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11270-016-2806-2

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  • Saline water
  • N application rate
  • N leaching
  • NH3 volatilization
  • Apparent N recovery
  • Cotton field