Widespread nitrous oxide undersaturation in farm waterbodies creates an unexpected greenhouse gas sink

Jackie Webb, Nicole M. Hayes, Gavin L. Simpson, Peter Leavitt, Helen Baulch, Kerri Finlay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
176 Downloads (Pure)


Nitrogen pollution and global eutrophication are predicted to increase nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from freshwater ecosystems. Surface waters within agricultural landscapes experience the full impact of these pressures and can contribute substantially to total landscape N2O emissions. However, N2O measurements to date have focused on flowing waters. Small artificial waterbodies remain greatly understudied in the context of agricultural N2O emissions. This study provides a regional analysis of N2O measurements in small (<0.01 km2) artificial reservoirs, of which an estimated 16 million exist globally. We show that 67% of reservoirs were N2O sinks (−12 to −2 μmol N2O⋅m−2⋅d−1) in Canada’s largest agricultural area, despite their highly eutrophic status [99 ± 289 µg⋅L−1 chlorophyll-a (Chl-a)]. Generalized additive models indicated that in situ N2O concentrations were strongly and nonlinearly related to stratification strength and dissolved inorganic nitrogen content, with the lowest N2O levels under conditions of strong water column stability and high algal biomass. Predicted fluxes from previously published models based on lakes, reservoirs, and agricultural waters overestimated measured fluxes on average by 7- to 33-fold, challenging the widely held view that eutrophic N-enriched waters are sources of N2O.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9814
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number20
Early online date29 Apr 2019
Publication statusEarly online date - 29 Apr 2019


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