Dissolved organic carbon losses from tile drained agroecosystems

J Environ Qual. 2009 Apr 27;38(3):1205-15. doi: 10.2134/jeq2008.0121. Print May-Jun 2009.


Artificial subsurface drainage is commonly used in midwestern agriculture and drainage losses of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from such systems are an under-quantified portion of the terrestrial carbon (C) cycle. The objectives of this study were to determine the effect of common agricultural management practices on DOC losses from subsurface tile drains and to assess patterns of loss as a function of year, time of year, and drainflow. Daily drainflow was collected across six water years (1999-2004) from a restored prairie grass system and cropping systems which include continuous corn (Zea mays L.) and corn-soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] rotations fertilized with urea-ammonium-nitrate (UAN) or swine (Sus scrofa) manure lagoon effluent. The DOC concentrations in tile drainflow were low, typically <2 mg L(-1). Yearly DOC losses, which ranged from 1.78 to 8.61 kg ha(-1), were not affected by management practices and were small compared to organic C inputs. Spring application of lagoon effluent increased yearly flow-weighted (FW)-DOC concentrations relative to other cropping systems in three of the years and increased monthly FW-DOC concentrations when drainflow occurred within 1 mo of application. Drainflow was significantly and positively correlated with DOC loss. Drainflow also affected DOC concentrations as greater 6-yr cumulative drainflow was associated with lower 6-yr FW-DOC concentrations and greater daily drainflow was associated with higher daily DOC concentrations. Our results indicate that lagoon effluent application and fertilizer N rates do not affect long-term losses of DOC from tile drains and that drainflow is the main driver of DOC losses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Carbon / analysis*
  • Organic Chemicals / analysis*
  • Rain
  • Soil / analysis*
  • Time Factors


  • Organic Chemicals
  • Soil
  • Carbon