AMES, Iowa — We hear a lot about reducing carbon dioxide emissions when it comes to controlling the threat of climate change, but a new study from Iowa State University suggests looking into another major greenhouse gas. It’s called Nitrous Oxide, and it largely comes from agricultural soil, specifically poor draining soil. 

Even though nitrous oxide accounts for just 7% of all greenhouse gasses emitted, it’s actually way more potent than carbon dioxide. “Just a small amount has a large impact on the climate. So if we’re comparing it to carbon dioxide, a given mass of nitrous oxide has about 300 times the warming potential, over 100 years as that carbon dioxide does,” said Steven Hall, an associate professor at Iowa State University.

A lot of the soils that were tested lie in north central Iowa. “We tested this by measuring nitrous oxide emissions along sort of a spectrum of really poorly drained soils to slightly slightly better drained soils that are sort of typical of the north central Iowa landscape and we found that actually, to our surprise, all of the soils we measured were capable of producing really large amounts of nitrous oxide,” said Hall. 

That’s why Hall and other researchers want policy makers to assess nitrous oxide emissions alongside carbon emissions. “If we really want to focus on improving the climate impacts of agriculture beyond carbon, really focusing on nitrogen use and its role in sort of helping to reduce nitrous oxide emissions,” said Hall.