Despite growing recognition of the role that cities have in global biogeochemical cycles, urban systems are among the least understood of all ecosystems. Urban grasslands are expanding rapidly along with urbanization, which is expected to increase at unprecedented rates in upcoming decades. The large and increasing area of urban grasslands and their impact on water and air quality justify the need for a better understanding of their biogeochemical cycles. There is also great uncertainty about the effect that climate change, especially changes in winter snow cover, will have on nutrient cycles in urban grasslands. We aimed to evaluate how reduced snow accumulation directly affects winter soil frost dynamics, and indirectly greenhouse gas fluxes and the processing of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) during the subsequent growing season in northern urban grasslands. Both artificial and natural snow reduction increased winter soil frost, affecting winter microbial C and N processing, accelerating C and N cycles and increasing soil : atmosphere greenhouse gas exchange during the subsequent growing season. With lower snow accumulations that are predicted with climate change, we found decreases in N retention in these ecosystems, and increases in N2O and CO2 flux to the atmosphere, significantly increasing the global warming potential of urban grasslands. Our results suggest that the environmental impacts of these rapidly expanding ecosystems are likely to increase as climate change brings milder winters and more extensive soil frost.
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