Throughout most of the northern hemisphere, snow cover decreased in almost every winter month from 1967 to 2012. Because snow is an effective insulator, snow cover loss has likely enhanced soil freezing and the frequency of soil freeze–thaw cycles, which can disrupt soil nitrogen dynamics including the production of nitrous oxide (N2O). We used replicated automated gas flux chambers deployed in an annual cropping system in the upper Midwest US for three winters (December–March, 2011–2013) to examine the effects of snow removal and additions on N2O fluxes. Diminished snow cover resulted in increased N2O emissions each year; over the entire experiment, cumulative emissions in plots with snow removed were 69% higher than in ambient snow control plots and 95% higher than in plots that received additional snow (P < 0.001). Higher emissions coincided with a greater number of freeze–thaw cycles that broke up soil macroaggregates (250–8000 µm) and significantly increased soil inorganic nitrogen pools. We conclude that winters with less snow cover can be expected to accelerate N2O fluxes from agricultural soils subject to wintertime freezing.
Ecosystems – Springer Journals
Published: Nov 21, 2016
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