Freezing effects on carbon and nitrogen cycling in northern hardwood forest soils

Caroline B. Nielsen, Peter M. Groffman, Steven P. Hamburg, Charles T. Driscoll, Timothy J. Fahey, Janet P. Hardy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

140 Scopus citations


We evaluated the effects of freeze-thaw events on soil respiration, nitrogen mineralization, nitrification, and nitrous oxide production in soils from a northern hardwood-dominated forest in New Hampshire, USA. Soil samples from three horizons (Oe, Oa, A) from nearly monospecific stands of sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marshall) and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis Britton) were placed in 200-mL incubation vessels (microlysimeters), subjected to severe (-13°C) and mild (-3°C) freeze treatments for 10 d, and then incubated at laboratory temperature (20-25°C) for 3 wk. Evolution of CO2 and N2O and concentrations of leachable NH4+ and NO3- were measured at weekly intervals. Freezing increased rates of C and N cycling in these soils, but the effects varied with species, horizon, and freeze treatment. Whereas severe freezing stimulated respiration, N2O flux, and mineralization, mild freezing had very few effects. Nitrification did not appear to be affected by either freeze treatment, but increases in denitrification may have masked freeze effects on this process. Freeze effects were much more marked in maple than in birch soils and in the Oa and A horizons. Maple consistently had higher rates of nitrification and N2O production than did birch. The species and horizon differences were likely driven by higher levels of available C in the birch soils and Oe horizon at both sites. These results suggest that changes in climate and snow cover that influence soil freezing could increase N and C losses from northern hardwood forest ecosystems with potential effects on soil fertility and carbon storage, receiving water quality, and atmospheric chemistry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1723-1730
Number of pages8
JournalSoil Science Society of America Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


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