Carbon Sequestration in Arable Soils is Likely to Increase Nitrous Oxide Emissions, Offsetting Reductions in Climate Radiative Forcing


Strategies for mitigating the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere include sequestering carbon (C) in soils and vegetation of terrestrial ecosystems. Carbon and nitrogen (N) move through terrestrial ecosystems in coupled biogeochemical cycles, and increasing C stocks in soils and vegetation will have an impact on the N cycle. We conducted simulations with a biogeochemical model to evaluate the impact of different cropland management strategies on the coupled cycles of C and N, with special emphasis on C-sequestration and emission of the greenhouse gases methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Reduced tillage, enhanced crop residue incorporation, and farmyard manure application each increased soil C-sequestration, increased N2O emissions, and had little effect on CH4 uptake. Over 20 years, increases in N2O emissions, which were converted into CO2-equivalent emissions with 100-year global warming potential multipliers, offset 75–310% of the carbon sequestered, depending on the scenario. Quantification of these types of biogeochemical interactions must be incorporated into assessment frameworks and trading mechanisms to accurately evaluate the value of agricultural systems in strategies for climate protection.


Earth Sciences, Earth Systems Research Center

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Climatic Change



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