Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 1548–1557 | Cite as

N2O and N2 emissions from denitrification respond differently to temperature and nitrogen supply

  • Thang V. Lai
  • Matthew D. DentonEmail author
Soils, Sec 3 • Remediation and Management of Contaminated or Degraded Lands • Research Article



The reduction of nitrate (NO3ˉ) to nitrous oxide (N2O) and eventually to dinitrogen (N2) during denitrification in soil has rarely been studied at temperatures above 30 °C. The aim of this study was to understand the impact of high temperatures on denitrification and associated N2O/N2 ratios in soil with different nitrogen (N) availability.

Materials and methods

The study was conducted on a Dermosol collected from a dairy farm from south west Victoria, Australia (38° 10′ S, 142° 58′ E). Soil samples were wetted to 60% water holding capacity then pre-incubated at 25 °C for 7 days. Re-packed soil cores were supplied with different amounts of N (equivalent to 0, 50,100, and 150 kg N ha−1) as 14NH4 15NO3, 10 atom% excess 15N, and incubated at 25, 35, and 45 °C for 10 days. Gas samples were taken during the experiment to assess the reduction of NO3ˉ to N2O and eventually to N2.

Results and discussion

The majority of soil N losses during denitrification were from N2O emissions, which were influenced by an interaction between temperature and N availability. The highest rate of N2O emission occurred at 35 °C, in soils provided with N equivalent to 100 to 150 kg N ha−1. A decrease in N2O emissions above 35 °C was partially attributed to an increase in N2O reduction, e.g., N2 production, between 35 and 45 °C. Increased N2 production at 45 °C decreased N2O/N2 ratios by 33 to 85%, resulting in ratios of 0.3 to 1.2. Temperature may have a direct effect on the reduction of NO3ˉ to N2O due to decreased oxygen availability with increasing soil respiration rates, thus enhancing the use of NO3ˉ as a terminal electron acceptor by denitrifiers.


Temperature interacted with soil N availability to control N2O emission from denitrification, while the reduction of N2O to N2 also increased with temperature. Significant conversion of N2O to N2 above 35 °C decreased the N2O/N2 ratios from denitrification. Depletion of oxygen in soil microsites with higher temperatures appeared to influence N2O production through selection of more NO3ˉ acting as a terminal electron acceptor during denitrification.


Dinitrogen N2O/N2 ratio Nitrogen transformation Nitrous oxide Oxygen Reduction of N2



This study was funded by the Vietnam International Education Development (VIED), The University of Adelaide, and Tim Healy Memorial Scholarship (Future Farm Industries CRC). We acknowledge the assistance of Ryan Farquharson (CSIRO), Murray Unkovich (University of Adelaide) and Nanthi Bolan (University of Newcastle) in the development of methods, Kevin Kelly (Department of Economic Development, VIC, Australia) in providing site access for soil collection and environmental data, Nigel Charman for assistance with soil sampling, and Ann McNeill, Philippa Tansing, and Sean Mason for technical assistance on mineral nitrogen analysis and soil physical measurements.


  1. Avalakki U, Strong W, Saffigna P (1995) Measurement of gaseous emissions from denitrification of applied 15N2. Effects of temperature and added straw. Soil Res 33:89–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Avrahami S, Liesack W, Conrad R (2003) Effects of temperature and fertilizer on activity and community structure of soil ammonia oxidizers. Environ Microbiol 5:691–705CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bell M, Schwenke G, Lester D (2016) Understanding and managing N loss pathways. Grains Research and Development Corporation, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  4. Blackmer A, Bremner J (1978) Inhibitory effect of nitrate on reduction of N2O to N2 by soil microorganisms. Soil Biol Biochem 10:187–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blagodatskaya Е, Zheng X, Blagodatsky S, Wiegl R, Dannenmann M, Butterbach-Bahl K (2014) Oxygen and substrate availability interactively control the temperature sensitivity of CO2 and N2O emission from soil. Biol Fertil Soil 50:775–783CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brooks P, Stark JM, McInteer B, Preston T (1989) Diffusion method to prepare soil extracts for automated nitrogen-15 analysis. Soil Sci Soc Am J 53:1707–1711CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Butterbach-Bahl K, Baggs EM, Dannenmann M, Kiese R, Zechmeister-Boltenstern S (2013) Nitrous oxide emissions from soils: how well do we understand the processes and their controls? Philos T Roy Soc B 368:20130122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cho C, Burton D, Chang C (1997a) Denitrification and fluxes of nitrogenous gases from soil under steady oxygen distribution. Can J Soil Sci 77:261–269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cho C, Burton D, Chang C (1997b) Kinetic formulation of oxygen consumption and denitrification processes in soil. Can J Soil Sci 77:253–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Climate Data Online (2015) Bureau of Meteorology. Accessed 2015
  11. Crutzen P (1983) Atmospheric interactions. Homogeneous gas reactions of C, N, and S containing compounds. In: Bolin B, Cook R (eds) The major biogeochemical cycles and their interactions, vol SCOPE 21. Wiley, New York, p 67–114Google Scholar
  12. Davidson EA, Kanter D (2014) Inventories and scenarios of nitrous oxide emissions. Environ Res Lett 9:105012CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dobbie K, Smith K (2001) The effects of temperature, water-filled pore space and land use on N2O emissions from an imperfectly drained gleysol. Eur J Soil Sci 52:667–673CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Firestone M, Davidson E (1989) Microbiological basis of NO and N2O production and consumption in soil. In: Andreae M, DS S (eds) Exchange of trace gases between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere. John Wiley & Son, Chichester, pp 7–21Google Scholar
  15. Focht D (1974) The effect of temperature, pH, and aeration on the production of nitrous oxide and gaseous nitrogen—a zero-order kinetic model. Soil Sci 118:173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gillam K, Zebarth B, Burton D (2008) Nitrous oxide emissions from denitrification and the partitioning of gaseous losses as affected by nitrate and carbon addition and soil aeration. Can J Soil Sci 88:133–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Goodroad L, Keeney D (1984) Nitrous oxide production in aerobic soils under varying pH, temperature and water content. Soil Biol Biochem 16:39–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Grace P, Rowlings D, Rochester I, Kiese R, Butterbach-Bahl K (2010) Nitrous oxide emissions from irrigated cotton soils of northern Australia. Paper presented at the Proceedings 19th World Congress of Soil Science 2010, BrisbaneGoogle Scholar
  19. Hendon HH, Thompson DW, Wheeler MC (2007) Australian rainfall and surface temperature variations associated with the Southern Hemisphere annular mode. J Clim 20:2452–2467CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Holtan-Hartwig L, Dörsch P, Bakken L (2002) Low temperature control of soil denitrifying communities: kinetics of N2O production and reduction. Soil Biol Biochem 34:1797–1806CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. IPCC (2006) Greenhouse gas emissions from agricutlture. forestry and other land use. Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), HayamaGoogle Scholar
  22. Isbell R (1996) The Australian soil classification. Australian soil and land survey handbook vol 4. CSIRO, MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  23. Keeney D, Marx G, Fillery I (1979) Effect of temperature on the gaseous nitrogen products of denitrification in a silt loam soil. Soil Sci Soc Am J 43:1124–1128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Knowles R (1982) Denitrification. In: Paul EA, Ladd JN (eds) Soil biochemistry, vol 5. Marcel Dekker, New York, pp 323–369Google Scholar
  25. Li C (2000) Modeling trace gas emissions from agricultural ecosystems. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 58:259–276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Li C, Frolking S, Frolking TA (1992) A model of nitrous oxide evolution from soil driven by rainfall events: 1. Model structure and sensitivity. J Geophys Res Atmos 97:9759–9776CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Luo J, White R, Roger Ball P, Tillman R (1996) Measuring denitrification activity in soils under pasture: optimizing conditions for the short-term denitrification enzyme assay and effects of soil storage on denitrification activity. Soil Biol Biochem 28:409–417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Maag M, Vinther FP (1996) Nitrous oxide emission by nitrification and denitrification in different soil types and at different soil moisture contents and temperatures. Appl Soil Ecol 4:5–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Malhi S, McGill W, Nyborg M (1990) Nitrate losses in soils: effect of temperature, moisture and substrate concentration. Soil Biol Biochem 22:733–737CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. McKenney D, Johnson G, Findlay W (1984) Effect of temperature on consecutive denitrification reactions in Brookston clay and Fox sandy loam. Appl Environ Microbiol 47:919–926Google Scholar
  31. Parton W et al (2001) Generalized model for NOx and N2O emissions from soils. J Geophys Res Atmos 106:17403–17419CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pierzynski GM, Vance GF, Sims JT (2005) Soils and environmental quality. CRC press Taylor & Francis Group, USAGoogle Scholar
  33. Potter CS, Matson PA, Vitousek PM, Davidson EA (1996) Process modeling of controls on nitrogen trace gas emissions from soils worldwide. J Geophys Res Atmos 101:1361–1377CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ravishankara A, Daniel JS, Portmann RW (2009) Nitrous oxide (N2O): the dominant ozone-depleting substance emitted in the 21st century. Science 326:123–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rudaz A, Wälti E, Kyburz G, Lehmann P, Fuhrer J (1999) Temporal variation in N2O and N2 fluxes from a permanent pasture in Switzerland in relation to management, soil water content and soil temperature. Agric Ecosyst Environ 73:83–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ruser R, Flessa H, Russow R, Schmidt G, Buegger F, Munch J (2006) Emission of N2O, N2 and CO2 from soil fertilized with nitrate: effect of compaction, soil moisture and rewetting. Soil Biol Biochem 38:263–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Schmidt EL (1982) Nitrification in soil. In: Stevenson F (ed) Nitrogen in agricultural soil, vol 22. American Soc. Agronomy, Madison, pp 253–288Google Scholar
  38. Scholefield D, Hawkins J, Jackson S (1997) Use of a flowing helium atmosphere incubation technique to measure the effects of denitrification controls applied to intact cores of a clay soil. Soil Biol Biochem 29:1337–1344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Schwenke G, Haigh B (2016) The interaction of seasonal rainfall and nitrogen fertiliser rate on soil N2O emission, total N loss and crop yield of dryland sorghum and sunflower grown on sub-tropical Vertosols. Soil Res.
  40. Sierra J, Marban L (2000) Nitrogen mineralization pattern of an oxisol of Guadeloupe, French West Indies. Soil Sci Soc Am J 64:2002–2010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Smith K (1997) The potential for feedback effects induced by global warming on emissions of nitrous oxide by soils. Glob Chang Biol 3:327–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Smith KA, McTaggart IP, Dobbie KE, Conen F (1998) Emissions of N2O from Scottish agricultural soils, as a function of fertilizer N. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 52:123–130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Stevens R, Laughlin R (1998) Measurement of nitrous oxide and di-nitrogen emissions from agricultural soils. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 52:131–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Stevens R, Laughlin R, Atkins G, Prosser S (1993) Automated determination of nitrogen-15-labeled dinitrogen and nitrous oxide by mass spectrometry. Soil Sci Soc Am J 57:981–988CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Strong D, Fillery I (2002) Denitrification response to nitrate concentrations in sandy soils. Soil Biol Biochem 34:945–954CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Tiedje JM, Sexstone AJ, Myrold DD, Robinson JA (1983) Denitrification: ecological niches, competition and survival. Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek 48:569–583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Weier K, Doran J, Power J, Walters D (1993) Denitrification and the dinitrogen/nitrous oxide ratio as affected by soil water, available carbon, and nitrate. Soil Sci Soc Am J 57:66–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. White R, Cai G, Chen D, Fan X, Pacholski A, Zhu Z, Ding H (2002) Gaseous nitrogen losses from urea applied to maize on a calcareous fluvo-aquic soil in the North China Plain. Soil Res 40:737–748CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zaman M, Chang S (2004) Substrate type, temperature, and moisture content affect gross and net N mineralization and nitrification rates in agroforestry systems. Biol Fertil Soil 39:269–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Zhu X, Burger M, Doane TA, Horwath WR (2013) Ammonia oxidation pathways and nitrifier denitrification are significant sources of N2O and NO under low oxygen availability. Proc Natl Acad Sci 110:6328–6333CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Agriculture, Food & WineThe University of AdelaideGlen OsmondAustralia
  2. 2.School of Agriculture & ForestryHue UniversityHueVietnam

Personalised recommendations