Increased soil emissions of potent greenhouse gases under increased atmospheric CO2

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Abstract

Increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) can affect biotic and abiotic conditions in soil, such as microbial activity and water content1,2. In turn, these changes might be expected to alter the production and consumption of the important greenhouse gases nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) (refs 2, 3). However, studies on fluxes of N2O and CH4 from soil under increased atmospheric CO2 have not been quantitatively synthesized. Here we show, using meta-analysis, that increased CO2 (ranging from 463 to 780 parts per million by volume) stimulates both N2O emissions from upland soils and CH4 emissions from rice paddies and natural wetlands. Because enhanced greenhouse-gas emissions add to the radiative forcing of terrestrial ecosystems, these emissions are expected to negate at least 16.6 per cent of the climate change mitigation potential previously predicted from an increase in the terrestrial carbon sink under increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations4. Our results therefore suggest that the capacity of land ecosystems to slow climate warming has been overestimated.

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Figure 1: Results of a meta-analysis of the response of GHG emissions and their potential drivers to rising levels of atmospheric CO2.
Figure 2: The effect of rising atmospheric CO 2 on GHG emissions, expressed on the global scale.

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. A. Prior, G. B. Runion, F. Hagedorn, A. Niboyet, J. C. Blankinship, W. Cheng, T. Kanerva, R. S. Nowak, S. F. Zitzer, F. A. Dijkstra and J. P. Megonigal for sharing their data. Financial support for this study was provided by DOE-NICCR, NSF (DEB-0949460) and the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology, co-funded by Marie Curie Actions under FP7.

Author information

K.J.v.G. and B.A.H. designed the investigation. K.J.v.G. extracted the data from the literature and constructed the database. K.J.v.G. and C.W.O. performed the statistical analyses. All authors contributed to writing the paper.

Correspondence to Kees Jan van Groenigen.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

The file contains Supplementary Tables 1-12, Supplementary Figures 1-6 with legends and additional references. (PDF 308 kb)

Supplementary Data 1

This dataset lists all experimental observations used for the meta-analysis on soil N2O fluxes. It also shows all 3 effect sizes and all 3 weights that were calculated for each observation. Furthermore, it briefly summarizes the experimental conditions under which the observations were made, and how the data were extracted from each publication. (XLS 62 kb)

Supplementary Data 2

This dataset lists all experimental observations used for the meta-analysis on soil CH4 fluxes. It also shows all 3 effect sizes and all 3 weights that were calculated for each observation. Furthermore, it briefly summarizes the experimental conditions under which the observations were made, and how the data were extracted from each publication. (XLS 115 kb)

Supplementary Data 3

This dataset lists all experimental observations used for the meta-analysis on soil water contents. It also shows all 3 effect sizes and all 3 weights that were calculated for each observation. Furthermore, it briefly summarizes the experimental conditions under which the observations were made, and how the data were extracted from each publication. (XLS 116 kb)

Supplementary Data 4

This dataset lists all experimental observations used for the meta-analysis on root biomass. It also shows all 3 effect sizes and all 3 weights that were calculated for each observation. Furthermore, it briefly summarizes the experimental conditions under which the observations were made, and how the data were extracted from each publication. (XLS 132 kb)

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