Methane and nitrous oxide fluxes in annual and perennial land-use systems of the irrigated areas in the Aral Sea Basin


Reiner Wassmann, Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research, Atmospheric Environmental Research (IMK-IFU), Kreuzeckbahnstr. 19, D-82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, tel. +49 63 2 580 5600 ext. 2737, fax +49 63 2 580 5699, e-mail:


Land use and agricultural practices can result in important contributions to the global source strength of atmospheric nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4). However, knowledge of gas flux from irrigated agriculture is very limited. From April 2005 to October 2006, a study was conducted in the Aral Sea Basin, Uzbekistan, to quantify and compare emissions of N2O and CH4 in various annual and perennial land-use systems: irrigated cotton, winter wheat and rice crops, a poplar plantation and a natural Tugai (floodplain) forest. In the annual systems, average N2O emissions ranged from 10 to 150 μg N2O-N m−2 h−1 with highest N2O emissions in the cotton fields, covering a similar range of previous studies from irrigated cropping systems. Emission factors (uncorrected for background emission), used to determine the fertilizer-induced N2O emission as a percentage of N fertilizer applied, ranged from 0.2% to 2.6%. Seasonal variations in N2O emissions were principally controlled by fertilization and irrigation management. Pulses of N2O emissions occurred after concomitant N-fertilizer application and irrigation. The unfertilized poplar plantation showed high N2O emissions over the entire study period (30 μg N2O-N m−2 h−1), whereas only negligible fluxes of N2O (<2 μg N2O-N m−2 h−1) occurred in the Tugai. Significant CH4 fluxes only were determined from the flooded rice field: Fluxes were low with mean flux rates of 32 mg CH4 m−2 day−1 and a low seasonal total of 35.2 kg CH4 ha−1. The global warming potential (GWP) of the N2O and CH4 fluxes was highest under rice and cotton, with seasonal changes between 500 and 3000 kg CO2 eq. ha−1. The biennial cotton–wheat–rice crop rotation commonly practiced in the region would average a GWP of 2500 kg CO2 eq. ha−1 yr−1. The analyses point out opportunities for reducing the GWP of these irrigated agricultural systems by (i) optimization of fertilization and irrigation practices and (ii) conversion of annual cropping systems into perennial forest plantations, especially on less profitable, marginal lands.