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Duration: 2013 - 2016

Microhabitat effects on N2O emissions from semiterrestrial soils

Fig1: Thur at Niederneunforn before (left) and after (right) the restoration in 2002. (Pictures: "Amt für Umwelt", canton TG)
Fig 2: Sampling emitted greenhouse gases from soils in the Thur River floodplain (pictures: J. Luster, WSL)
Fig 3: Large floods (main picture) deposit fresh sediments and destroy vegetation in the river floodplain (picture inset); this creates "hot moments" of nitrous oxide emissions during the drying phase (graph inset; orange lines indicate flood peaks  (pictures: J. Luster, WSL; data from "Shrestha, 2011")
Fig 4: Laboratory experiments in microcosms (left) and field measurements of nitrous oxide production and emission (right; Bruderer, 2012)

This project is part of the large multidisciplinary CCES project RECORD-Catchment, which investigates various aspects of river corridor management in the River Thur catchment. This SNF funded sub-project investigates factors on the microscale that govern the greenhouse gas potential of floodplain and related gleyic forest soils. This includes soil aggregation, plant - soil - microbe interactions and litter accumulations.


This project closely follows up the soil related investigations within the previous CCES project RECORD.
In particular, it relates to the observations in the course of this former project and many other studies, that in soils of restored and natural floodplains nitrogen pools, transformation rates and fluxes vary strongly in space and time. More specifically, zones in floodplains that are frequently disturbed by flooding can be considered "hot spots", and the drying phases after major floods "hot moments" of nitrogen cycling and related nitrous oxide emissions (Fig. 2, 3). For more details and references see the predecessor project.


The over-arching research question is "what are the driving factors for "hot spots" and "hot moments" of nitrogen cycling in floodplain soils on the micro scale?

To this end we plan

  • laboratory experiments assessing the effects of different "micro habitats" on the production and emission of nitrous oxide from floodplain soils and gleyic soils. The "micro habitat effects" include the effects of soil aggregation on the small-scale variability of oxygen availability, of plant root exudation on heterotrophic microbial processes such as nitrogen mineralisation or denitrification, of root induced aeration of the rhizosphere, and of leaf or root litter accumulations on local carbon and oxygen availability. The experiments will be carried out in dedicated microcosms (Fig.  4). This is the topic of a SNF funded Ph.D. project starting in 2014 and involves innovative isotopic approaches to measure gross nitrous oxide production and nitrous oxide source partitioning.
  • Test the relevance of the laboratory results in field experiments at the restored section of the Thur River at Niederneunforn (Fig. 1). Experimental treatments are planned to involve treching/clipping to exclude effects of root - soil interactions, and exclusion of aggregate forming soil biota.

University of Basel: Environmental Geosciences / Biogeochemistry (Moritz Lehmann)

University of Zürich: "Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies" (Pascal Niklaus)

EPFL: "Ecological Systems Laboratory" (Claire Guenat), "Applied Hydroeconomics  and Environmental Alpine Environmental Dynamics" (Paolo Perona)

EAWAG: "Hydrogeology" (Mario Schirmer)

Extension: "Thur" projects "Amt für Umwelt", canton of TG (Marco Baumann)

  • Shrestha, J. 2011. Spatiotemporal variability of carbon and nitrogen in floodplain soils of a perialpine river. Diss. ETHZ #20074
  • Bruderer, C. 2012. Nitrous oxide emissions and production in a floodplain of the River Thur. M.Sc. Thesis GEO 511, Dpt. of Geography, University of Zürich
Keywords rhizosphere, floodplain soils, nitrogen cycling, greenhouse gases, soil aggregation