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Research Update

University of B.C. Okanagan researcher Craig Nichol, with

chamber and vial used to collect soil gases.

A mission to reduce emissions


UBCO team’s study of soil processes could result in improved efficiency in orchards and vineyards.

By Judie Steeves R

esearch is underway at the University of B.C. Okanagan to determine whether orchards

and vineyards are on the plus or minus side of global warming, and what agricultural practices affect that. The idea is to identify what farm

management practices will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Along the way, much will also be

learned about the impacts of different mulches and watering systems on soils and plants, and how to improve production efficiency. Research plots in a South Okanagan

vineyard and apple orchard are being used for the experiments, explains Craig Nichol, an assistant professor at UBCO working in hydrogeology and soil physics. Biologists Melanie Jones and Louise

Nelson are involved in different aspects of the research, which is being funded by the Agricultural Greenhouse

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Winter 2012-13 19

Gases Program as part of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases with a grant of $1.2 million for the four-year project. Collaborators are working on related

research in New Zealand and Scotland. One question is what happens to the

carbon in the system as it breaks down in the soil, explains Nichol, and whether vineyards and orchards absorb carbon. While it is known that as the vine or

tree grows it accumulates carbon, and some also accumulates in the soil from short-term roots, it is not known how much nitrous oxide—a major

greenhouse gas—is emitted from the soil as a result of fertilizer and water applications to the plants. About half the greenhouse gas

emissions attributed to agriculture in Canada are derived from soil processes involving production and consumption of three important greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane gas. Researchers use a ring with a fitted

lid to cover the soil and isolate emissions from that patch, then collect the gases over a period of 20 minutes. Those gases are collected in vials and later measured to find out the rate at

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