Full accounting of the greenhouse gas (CO2, N2O, CH4) budget of nine European grassland sites

J. F. Soussana, V. Allard, K. Pilegaard, P. Ambus, C. Amman, C. L. Campbell, E. Ceschia, John C. Clifton-Brown, S. Czobel, R. Domingues, Christof Ammann, C. Flechard, J. Fuhrer, A. Hensen, L. Horvath, M. Jones, G. Kasper, C. Martin, Z. Nagy, A NeftelA. Raschi, S. Baronti, R. M. Rees, U. Skiba, P. Stefani, G. Manca, M. Sutton, Z. Tuba, R. Valentini

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The full greenhouse gas balance of nine contrasted grassland sites covering a major climatic gradient over Europe was measured during two complete years. The sites include a wide range of management regimes (rotational grazing, continuous grazing and mowing), the three main types of managed grasslands across Europe (sown, intensive permanent and semi-natural grassland) and contrasted nitrogen fertilizer supplies. At all sites, the net ecosystem exchange (NEE) of CO2 was assessed using the eddy covariance technique. N2O emissions were monitored using various techniques (GC-cuvette systems, automated chambers and tunable diode laser) and CH4 emissions resulting from enteric fermentation of the grazing cattle were measured in situ at four sites using the SF6 tracer method. Averaged over the two measurement years, net ecosystem exchange (NEE) results show that the nine grassland plots displayed a net sink for atmospheric CO2 of −240 ± 70 g C m−2 year−1 (mean ± confidence interval at p > 0.95). Because of organic C exports (from cut and removed herbage) being usually greater than C imports (from manure spreading), the average C storage (net biome productivity, NBP) in the grassland plots was estimated at −104 ± 73 g C m−2 year−1, that is 43% of the atmospheric CO2 sink. On average of the 2 years, the grassland plots displayed annual N2O and CH4 (from enteric fermentation by grazing cattle) emissions, in CO2-C equivalents, of 14 ± 4.7 and 32 ± 6.8 g CO2-C equiv. m−2 year−1, respectively. Hence, when expressed in CO2-C equivalents, emissions of N2O and CH4 resulted in a 19% offset of the NEE sink activity. An attributed GHG balance has been calculated by subtracting from the NBP: (i) N2O and CH4 emissions occurring within the grassland plot and (ii) off-site emissions of CO2 and CH4 as a result of the digestion and enteric fermentation by cattle of the cut herbage. On average of the nine sites, the attributed GHG balance was not significantly different from zero (−85 ± 77 g CO2-C equiv. m−2 year−1). The net exchanges by the grassland ecosystems of CO2 and of GHG were highly correlated with the difference in carbon used by grazing versus cutting, indicating that cut grasslands have a greater on-site sink activity than grazed grasslands. However, the net biome productivity was significantly correlated to the total C used by grazing and cutting, indicating that, on average, net carbon storage declines with herbage utilisation for herbivores.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-134
Number of pages15
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Issue number1-2
Early online date18 Jan 2007
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2007


  • Carbon sequestration
  • Nitrogen cycle
  • Nitrous oxide
  • methane
  • Livestock


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