• Carbon and nitrogen dynamics and greenhouse gas emissions in constructed wetlands treating wastewater: a review

      Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; Jahangir, Mohammad M. R.; Richards, Karl G.; Healy, Mark G.; Gill, L.; Muller, Christoph; Johnston, Paul; Fenton, Owen; Irish Research Council; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Ireland (European Geosciences Union, 18/01/2016)
      The removal efficiency of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) in constructed wetlands (CWs) is very inconsistent and frequently does not reveal whether the removal processes are due to physical attenuation or whether the different species have been transformed to other reactive forms. Previous research on nutrient removal in CWs did not consider the dynamics of pollution swapping (the increase of one pollutant as a result of a measure introduced to reduce a different pollutant) driven by transformational processes within and around the system. This paper aims to address this knowledge gap by reviewing the biogeochemical dynamics and fate of C and N in CWs and their potential impact on the environment, and by presenting novel ways in which these knowledge gaps may be eliminated. Nutrient removal in CWs varies with the type of CW, vegetation, climate, season, geographical region, and management practices. Horizontal flow CWs tend to have good nitrate (NO3−) removal, as they provide good conditions for denitrification, but cannot remove ammonium (NH4+) due to limited ability to nitrify NH4+. Vertical flow CWs have good NH4+ removal, but their denitrification ability is low. Surface flow CWs decrease nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions but increase methane (CH4) emissions; subsurface flow CWs increase N2O and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but decrease CH4 emissions. Mixed species of vegetation perform better than monocultures in increasing C and N removal and decreasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but empirical evidence is still scarce. Lower hydraulic loadings with higher hydraulic retention times enhance nutrient removal, but more empirical evidence is required to determine an optimum design. A conceptual model highlighting the current state of knowledge is presented and experimental work that should be undertaken to address knowledge gaps across CWs, vegetation and wastewater types, hydraulic loading rates and regimes, and retention times, is suggested. We recommend that further research on process-based C and N removal and on the balancing of end products into reactive and benign forms is critical to the assessment of the environmental performance of CWs.
    • Development of a scoring method to identify important areas of plant diversity in Ireland

      Walsh, Aidan; Sullivan, C. A.; Waldren, Stephen; Finn, John; Irish Research Council; Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme; PD/2011/2150; 2011012 (Elsevier, 2018-10-28)
      In the face of accelerating biodiversity loss it is more important than ever to identify important areas of biodiversity and target limited resources for conservation. We developed a method to identify areas of important plant diversity using known species’ distributions and evaluations of the species importance. We collated distribution records of vascular plants and developed a scoring method of spatial prioritisation to assign conservation value to the island of Ireland at the hectad scale (10 km × 10 km) and at the tetrad scale (2 km × 2 km) for two counties where sufficient data were available. Each plant species was assigned a species conservation value based on both its conservation status and distribution in Ireland. For each cell, the species conservation values within the cell were summed, thereby differentiating between areas of high and low conservation value across the landscape. Areas with high conservation value represent the most important areas for plant conservation. The protected area cover and the number of species present in these important areas were also examined by first defining threshold values using two different criteria. Species representation was high in the important areas; the identified important areas of plant diversity maintained high representation of species of conservation concern and achieved high species representation overall, requiring a low number of sites (<8%) to do so. The coincidence of protected areas and important areas for plant diversity was found to be low and while some important areas of plant diversity might benefit from the general protection afforded by these areas, our research highlights the need for conservation outside of protected areas.
    • Evaluation of Amendments to Control Phosphorus Losses in Runoff from Pig Slurry Applications to Land

      O'Flynn, Cornelius J.; Fenton, Owen; Healy, Mark G.; Irish Research Council (WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH, 24/11/2011)
      If spread in excess of crop requirements, incidental phosphorus (P) losses from agriculture can lead to eutrophication of receiving waters. The use of amendments in targeted areas may help reduce the possibility of surface runoff of nutrients. The aim of this study was to identify amendments which may be effective in reducing incidental dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) losses in surface runoff from land applied pig slurry. For this purpose, the DRP losses under simulated conditions across the surface of intact grassland soil cores, loaded with unamended and amended slurry at a rate equivalent to 19 kg P ha−1, were determined over a 30 h period. The effectiveness of the amendments at reducing DRP in overlying water were (in decreasing order): alum (86%), flue gas desulfurization by-product (FGD) (74%), poly-aluminum (Al) chloride (PAC) (73%), ferric chloride (71%), fly ash (58%), and lime (54%). FGD was the most costly of all the treatments (€7.64/m3 for 74% removal). Ranked in terms of feasibility, which takes into account effectiveness, cost, and other potential impediments to use, they were: alum, ferric chloride, PAC, fly ash, lime, and FGD.
    • The Impact of Chemically Amended Pig Slurry on Surface Runoff, Leachate and Greenhouse Gasses

      O'Flynn, Cornelius J.; Irish Research Council (2013-05)
      In Ireland, the pig industry is concentrated in a small number of counties. Pig farms typically have a high stocking rate. Therefore, the disposal of slurry in a cost-effective and environmentally-responsible way is a serious issue for farmers. Slurry is commonly applied to land, but this may not be possible if the land is at, or approaching, phosphorus (P) saturation. As pig farmers dispose of slurry in the vicinity of their properties, most of the nearby land is at P saturation, so alternative treatment methods need to be utilised (e.g. constructed wetlands, anaerobic digestion, filtration) or the slurry needs to be transported to another location. These alternatives are not currently financially viable in Ireland. Existing legislation (S.I. 610 of 2010) and recent changes in the implementation of legislation governing the timing and quantities of slurry that may be applied to land, means that pig farmers will no longer be able to exceed the maximum legal application rate to land (from January 2017). European policy aiming to intensify pig production will only accentuate this problem. If pig farmers are forced, in exceptional circumstances, to land apply slurry to unsuitable land, surface and subsurface losses of nutrients and suspended solids (SS) may occur. This could be potentially problematic if the land is located in a critical source area (CSA), an area that is highly likely to pollute receiving waters. In these circumstances, a possible novel solution is to chemically amend the pig slurry prior to landspreading. This would mean that pig farmers may, in exceptional circumstances, utilise the land in the vicinity of their farms for landspreading, without releasing excessive nutrients and SS into receiving waters. However, knowledge gaps exist concerning the type of amendments to be used, the characteristics of the soil on which they can be most effectively used, and their impact on incidental (short-term) and chronic (long-term) losses of nutrients, SS and greenhouse gas (GHG) to surface and subsurface water and the atmosphere. Therefore, the aims of this project were to: (1) identify the most appropriate chemical amendments, and their addition rates, to reduce P losses in runoff from pig slurry based on effectiveness, cost and feasibility; (2) investigate the impacts of these chemical amendments on nutrient losses in leachate, soil properties and GHG emissions; and (3) identify suitable soil types on which to landspread chemically-amended pig slurry. Laboratory bench-scale experiments were designed to identify the amendments which had the potential to reduce P in overland runoff and to quantify the stoichiometric rates at which to add them to the slurry. Based on effectiveness, cost and feasibility, the amendments identified were alum, which reduced dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) in overlying water by 86%, poly-aluminium chloride (PAC) (73%) and ferric chloride (FeCl3) (71%). Following these bench-scale experiments, rainfall simulation experiments were conducted to quantify the impact of chemical amendments to slurry on surface runoff losses at various time intervals from the time of application. Poly-aluminium chloride performed best in these experiments. For the first time, the effect of these amendments on GHG emissions, soil properties and leachate was also examined. Chemical amendment did not adversely affect GHG emissions, soil properties or leachate from pig slurry, but FeCl3 increased nitrous oxide (N2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) losses. Finally, a 3-mo incubation experiment was conducted using a range of soil types to examine the effect of amendments on the long-term plant availability of P in soil and P solubility. Alum reduced more water extractable P than PAC, but also resulted in less plant available P. Considering cost, surface runoff and subsurface leachate losses, GHG emissions and impacts on soil chemistry, PAC was found to be the most suitable amendment with which to chemically amend pig slurry. There is the potential, in combination with existing programmes of measures, to employ chemical amendment as a measure to mitigate the environmental impact arising from the landspreading of pig slurry. This should be conducted in targeted areas of the CSA and should take into account soil type and its chemical properties. Before implementation, these tests must first be validated in long-term testing at field-scale over a wide variety of soil types, and include repeated application and incorporation. At present, there is no provision in legislation for chemical amendments to be used as a mitigation measure in the land application of pig slurry, but if they are to be utilised, a regulatory framework will need to be introduced by the relevant bodies.
    • Indirect emissions of N2O, CO2 and CH4 via groundwater in contrasting agricultural systems

      Jahangir, Mohammad M. R.; Johnston, Paul; Richards, Karl G.; Irish Research Council; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Ireland (10/03/2014)
      The dynamics of dissolved carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) in groundwater is a key ‘‘missing piece’’ in our understanding of global C and N balances. In addition, quantification of dissolved nitrous oxide (N2O), carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) in groundwater beneath an agricultural system is of huge importance for global greenhouse gas (GHG) budget estimation. This research aimed to (i) measure the amount of dissolved C and N losses from two terrestrial ecosystems to the aquatic ecosystems via groundwater, and (ii) estimate the contribution of indirect emissions of GHG to the atmosphere.
    • Methodological tests of the use of trace elements as tracers to assess root activity

      Hoekstra, Nyncke J.; Finn, John; Buchmann, Nina; Gockele, A.; Landert, L.; Prill, N.; Scherer-Lorenzen, M.; Luscher, L.; European Union; Irish Research Council; et al. (Springer, 2014-03)
      Background and aims There is increasing interest in how resource utilisation in grassland ecosystems is affected by changes in plant diversity and abiotic conditions. Research to date has mainly focussed on aboveground responses and there is limited insight into belowground processes. The aim of this study was to test a number of assumptions for the valid use of the trace elements caesium, lithium, rubidium and strontium as tracers to assess the root activity of several grassland species. Methods We carried out a series of experiments addressing the reliability of soil labelling, injection density, incubation time, application rate and the comparability of different tracers in a multiple tracer method. Results The results indicate that it is possible to achieve a reliable labelling of soil depths. Tracer injection density affected the variability but not the mean level of plant tracer concentrations. Tracer application rates should be based on pilot studies, because of site- and species-specific responses. The trace elements did not meet prerequisites to be used in a multiple tracer method. Conclusions The use of trace elements as tracers is potentially a very useful tool to give insight into plant root activity at different soil depths. This work highlights some of the main benefits and pitfalls of the method and provides specific recommendations to assist the design of tracer experiments and interpretation of the results.