Green stormwater infrastructure such as bioretention is commonly implemented in urban areas for stormwater quality improvements. Although bioretention systems' soil media and vegetation have the potential to increase carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) storage for climate change mitigation, this storage potential has not been rigorously studied, and any analysis of it must consider the question of whether bioretention emits greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. We monitored eight roadside bioretention cells for CO2-C and N2O-N fluxes during two growing seasons (May through October) in Vermont, USA. C and N stocks in the soil media layers, microbes, and aboveground vegetation were also quantified to determine the overall C and N balance. Our bioretention cells contained three different treatments: plant species mix (high diversity versus low diversity), soil media (presence or absence of P-sorbent filter layer), and hydrologic (enhanced rainfall and runoff in some cells). CO2-C and N2O-N fluxes from all cells averaged 194 mg m-2 h-1 (range: 37 to 374 mg m-2 h-1) and 10 μg m-2 h-1 (range: -1100 to 330 μg m-2 h-1), respectively. There were no treatment-induced changes on gas fluxes. CO2-C fluxes were highly significantly correlated with soil temperature (R2 = 0.68, p < 0.0001), while N2O-N fluxes were weakly correlated with temperature (R2 = 0.017, p = 0.04). Bioretention soil media contained the largest pool of total C and N (17122 g and 1236 g, respectively) when compared with vegetation and microbial pools. Microbial biomass C made up 14% (1936 g) of the total soil C in the upper 30 cm media layer. The total C and N sequestered by bioretention plants were 13,020 g and 320 g, respectively. After accounting for C and N losses via gas fluxes, the bioretention appeared to be a net sink for those nutrients. We also compared our bioretention gas fluxes to those from a variety of natural (i.e., grasslands and forests) and artificial (i.e., fertilized and irrigated or engineered) land-use types. We found bioretention fluxes to be in the mid-range among these land-use types, mostly likely due to organic matter (OM) influences on decomposition being similar to processes in natural systems.
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Shrestha P, Hurley SE, Adair EC. Soil media CO2 and N2O fluxes dynamics from sand-based roadside bioretention systems. Water. 2018 Feb;10(2):185.