Articles | Volume 7, issue 12
Research article
17 Dec 2014
Research article |  | 17 Dec 2014

Investigating uptake of N2O in agricultural soils using a high-precision dynamic chamber method

N. J. Cowan, D. Famulari, P. E. Levy, M. Anderson, D. S. Reay, and U. M. Skiba

Abstract. Uptake (or negative flux) of nitrous oxide (N2O) in agricultural soils is a controversial issue which has proved difficult to investigate in the past due to constraints such as instrumental precision and methodological uncertainties. Using a recently developed high-precision quantum cascade laser gas analyser combined with a closed dynamic chamber, a well-defined detection limit of 4 μg N2O-N m−2 h−1 could be achieved for individual soil flux measurements. 1220 measurements of N2O flux were made from a variety of UK soils using this method, of which 115 indicated uptake by the soil (i.e. a negative flux in the micrometeorological sign convention). Only four of these apparently negative fluxes were greater than the detection limit of the method, which suggests that the vast majority of reported negative fluxes from such measurements are actually due to instrument noise. As such, we suggest that the bulk of negative N2O fluxes reported for agricultural fields are most likely due to limits in detection of a particular flux measurement methodology and not a result of microbiological activity consuming atmospheric N2O.