Accumulation of nitrate and dissolved organic nitrogen at depth in a red soil Critical Zone

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Abstract

Nitrate accumulation has been reported in the top 1 m and subsurface soil (>1 m) across arid to semi-humid regions, but not in humid regions. Nitrate inventories through the whole regolith, referred to collectively as soil and saprolite, in humid regions have received little attention to date, likely due to previously assumed low nitrification rates and large nitrogen (N) losses by severe surface runoff and erosion. In order to understand if and how reactive N exists in the below ground (soil and saprolite) in humid environment, the amount of NO3−-N, NH4+-N and dissolved organic N (DON) present in the regolith to a depth of 9 m in a typical red soil Critical Zone was investigated under different land uses (upland, woodland and paddy field). The Red Soil Critical Zone Observatory is located in the subtropical Jiangxi Province, China, with a mean annual precipitation of 1795 mm and mean annual potential evapotranspiration of 1229 mm. The examined regoliths were acidic, highly weathered, and mainly clay loam to clay in texture. Results showed that on average 92% (827 ± 97 kg N ha−1) of NO3−-N and 82% (521 ± 153 kg N ha−1) of DON were stored at depth (from a depth of 1 m to the bedrock surface) in the upland regolith, while 92% (283 kg N ha−1) of NO3−-N and 78% (820 kg N ha−1) of DON were stored at depth in the woodland regolith. Nitrate N significantly accumulated with depth in the upland regolith from the 1- to 4-m depth interval (p < 0.01), while the inventory (632 ± 75 kg N ha−1) in the top 3-m zone accounted for on average 71% of the total. Dissolved organic N significantly accumulated with depth in the upland regolith from the 0- to 3-m depth interval (p < 0.01), while the inventory (408 ± 75 kg N ha−1) in the top 3-m zone accounted for on average 64% of the total. There was no significant accumulation for NH4+-N throughout the upland regolith (p = 0.35). No substantial accumulation of dissolved N was measured at depth in paddy field regoliths with different cultivation ages. The finding that large reservoirs of reactive N can exist in deep regolith rather than in the routinely investigated solum of subtropical regions shows a missing part of the terrestrial N budget and raises concerns about potential groundwater nitrate pollution.

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Wu, H., Song, X., Zhao, X., Peng, X., Zhou, H., Hallett, P. D., … Zhang, G. L. (2019). Accumulation of nitrate and dissolved organic nitrogen at depth in a red soil Critical Zone. Geoderma, 337, 1175–1185. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoderma.2018.11.019

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