Assessing the impacts of future climate conditions on the effectiveness of winter cover crops in reducing nitrate loads into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed using SWAT model

Transactions of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers
By: , and 

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Abstract

Winter cover crops (WCCs) have been widely implemented in the Coastal Plain of the Chesapeake Bay watershed (CBW) due to their high effectiveness at reducing nitrate loads. However, future climate conditions (FCCs) are expected to exacerbate water quality degradation in the CBW by increasing nitrate loads from agriculture. Accordingly, the question remains whether WCCs are sufficient to mitigate increased nutrient loads caused by FCCs. In this study, we assessed the impacts of FCCs on WCC nitrate reduction efficiency on the Coastal Plain of the CBW using Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model. Three FCC scenarios (2085 – 2098) were prepared using General Circulation Models (GCMs), considering three Intergovernmnental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) greenhouse gas emission scenarios. We also developed six representative WCC implementation scenarios based on the most commonly used planting dates and species of WCCs in this region. Simulation results showed that WCC biomass increased by ~ 58 % under FCC scenarios, due to climate conditions conducive to the WCC growth. Prior to implementing WCCs, annual nitrate loads increased by ~ 43 % under FCC scenarios compared to the baseline scenario (2001 – 2014). When WCCs were planted, annual nitrate loads were substantially reduced by ~ 48 % and WCC nitrate reduction efficiency water ~ 5 % higher under FCC scenarios relative to the baseline. The increase rate of WCC nitrate reduction efficiency varied by FCC scenarios and WCC planting methods. As CO2 concentration was higher and winters were warmer under FCC scenarios, WCCs had greater biomass and therefore showed higher nitrate reduction efficiency. In response to FCC scenarios, the performance of less effective WCC practices (e.g., barley, wheat, and late planting) under the baseline indicated ~ 14 % higher increase rate of nitrate reduction efficiency compared to ones with better effectiveness under the baseline (e.g., rye and early planting), due to warmer temperatures. According to simulation results, WCCs were effective to mitigate nitrate loads accelerated by FCCs and therefore the role of WCCs in mitigating nitrate loads is even more important in the given FCCs.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Assessing the impacts of future climate conditions on the effectiveness of winter cover crops in reducing nitrate loads into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed using SWAT model
Series title Transactions of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers
DOI 10.13031/trans.12390
Volume 60
Issue 6
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher ASABE
Contributing office(s) Eastern Geographic Science Center
Description 17 p.
First page 1939
Last page 1955
Country United States
Other Geospatial Chesapeake Bay