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Nitrogen Management Affects Carbon Sequestration in North American Cropland Soils

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Agricultural soils in North America can be a sink for rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations through the formation of soil organic matter (SOM) or humus. Humification is limited by the availability of nutrients such as nitrogen (N). Recommended management practices (RMPs) that optimize N availability foster humus formation. This review examines the management practices that contribute to maximizing N availability for optimizing sequestration of atmospheric CO2 into soil humus. Farming practices that enhance nutrient use, reduce or eliminate tillage, and increase crop intensity, together, affect N availability and, therefore, C sequestration. N additions, from especially, livestock manure and leguminous cover crops are necessary for increasing grain and biomass yields and returning crop residues to the soil thereby increasing soil organic carbon (SOC) concentration. Conservation tillage practices enhance also the availability of N and increase SOC concentration. Increase in cropping intensity and/or crop rotations produce higher quantity and quality of residues, increase availability of N, and therefore foster increase in C sequestration. The benefit of C sequestration from N additions may be negated by CO2 and N2O emissions associated with production and application of N fertilizers. More studies need to be conducted to ascertain the benefits of adding N via manuring versus N fertilizer additions. Furthermore, site specific adaptive research is needed to identify RMPs that optimize soil N use efficiency while improving crop yield and C sequestration thereby curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Due to the wide range of climate in North America, there is a large range of C sequestration potential in agricultural soils through N management. Humid croplands may have the potential to sequester 8-298 Tg C yr-1 while dry croplands may sequester 1-35 Tg C yr-1. These estimates, however, are highly uncertain and wide-ranging. Clearly, more research is needed to quantify, more precisely, the C sequestration potential across different N management scenarios especially in Mexico and Canada.

Keywords: N fertilizer; carbon sequestration; nitrogen; nutrient use efficiency

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, 2021 Coffey Road, Room 210, Columbus, OH,Great Lakes Center, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY 2: Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, 2021 Coffey Road, Room 210, Columbus, OH

Publication date: January 1, 2007


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