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Can N2O emissions offset the benefits from soil organic carbon storage?

Guenet B., Gabrielle B., Chenu C., Arrouays D., Balesdent J., Bernoux M., Bruni E., Caliman J.P., Cardinael R., Chen S., Ciais P., Desbois D., Fouche J., Frank S., Hénault C., Lugato E., Naipal V., Nesme T., Obersteiner M., Pellerin S., Powlson D., Rasse D., Rees F., Soussana J.F., Su Y., Tian H., Valin H., Zhou F.. 2021. Global Change Biology, 27 (2) : p. 237-256.

DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15342

To respect the Paris agreement targeting a limitation of global warming below 2°C by 2100, and possibly below 1.5 °C, drastic reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are mandatory but not sufficient. Large-scale deployment of other climate mitigation strategies are also necessary. Among these, increasing soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks is an important lever because carbon in soils can be stored for long periods and land management options to achieve this already exist and have been widely tested. However, agricultural soils are also an important source of nitrous oxide (N2O), a powerful greenhouse gas, and increasing SOC may influence N2O emissions, likely causing an increase in many cases, thus tending to offset the climate change benefit from increased SOC storage. Here, we review the main agricultural management options for increasing SOC stocks. We evaluate the amount of SOC that can be stored as well as resulting changes in N2O emissions to better estimate the climate benefits of these management options. Based on quantitative data obtained from published meta-analyses and from our current level of understanding, we conclude that the climate mitigation induced by increased SOC storage is generally overestimated if associated N2O emissions are not considered but, with the exception of reduced tillage, is never fully offset. Some options (e.g, biochar or non-pyrogenic C amendment application) may even decrease N2O emissions.

Mots-clés : matière organique du sol; séquestration du carbone; réduction des émissions; oxyde nitreux; amendement organique; travail du sol; fertilité du sol; cycle du carbone; cycle de l'azote; interactions biologiques; émissions de gaz à effet de serre; carbone organique du sol

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