A Reservoir of Nitrate Beneath Desert Soils

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Science  07 Nov 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5647, pp. 1021-1024
DOI: 10.1126/science.1086435

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A large reservoir of bioavailable nitrogen (up to ∼104 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare, as nitrate) has been previously overlooked in studies of global nitrogen distribution. The reservoir has been accumulating in subsoil zones of arid regions throughout the Holocene. Consideration of the subsoil reservoir raises estimates of vadose-zone nitrogen inventories by 14 to 71% for warm deserts and arid shrublands worldwide and by 3 to 16% globally. Subsoil nitrate accumulation indicates long-term leaching from desert soils, impelling further evaluation of nutrient dynamics in xeric ecosystems. Evidence that subsoil accumulations are readily mobilized raises concern about groundwater contamination after land-use or climate change.

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