Current and future hot-spots and hot-moments of nitrous oxide emission in a cold climate river basin

Narayan Kumar Shrestha, Junye Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


An ecosystem in a cold climate river basin is vulnerable to the effects of climate change affecting permafrost thaw and glacier retreat. We currently lack sufficient data and information if and how hydrological processes such as glacier retreat, snowmelt and freezing-thawing affect sediment and nutrient runoff and transport, as well as N2O emissions in cold climate river basins. As such, we have implemented well-established, semi-empirical equations of nitrification and denitrification within the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), which correlate the emissions with water, sediment and nutrients. We have tested this implementation to simulate emission dynamics at three sites on the Canadian prairies. We then regionalized the optimized parameters to a SWAT model of the Athabasca River Basin (ARB), Canada, calibrated and validated for streamflow, sediment and water quality. In the base period (1990–2005), agricultural areas (2662 gN/ha/yr) constituted emission hot-spots. The spring season in agricultural areas and summer season in forest areas, constituted emission hot-moments. We found that warmer conditions (+13% to +106%) would have a greater influence on emissions than wetter conditions (−19% to +13%), and that the combined effect of wetter and warmer conditions would be more offsetting than synergetic. Our results imply that the spatiotemporal variability of N2O emissions will depend strongly on soil water changes caused by permafrost thaw. Early snow freshet leads to spatial variability of soil erosion and nutrient runoff, as well as increases of emissions in winter and decreases in spring. Our simulations suggest crop residue management may reduce emissions by 34%, but with the mixed results reported in the literature and the soil and hydrology problems associated with stover removal more research is necessary. This modelling tool can be used to refine bottom-up emission estimations at river basin scale, test plausible management scenarios, and assess climate change impacts including climate feedback.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)648-660
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - Aug. 2018


  • ARB
  • Cold climate river basin
  • NO hot-spots and hot-moments
  • SWAT


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