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Effects of temperature, wind speed and air humidity on ammonia volatilization from surface applied cattle slurry

  • S. G. Sommer (a1), J. E. Olesen (a2) and B. T. Christensen (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 March 2009

Ammonia losses from surface-applied cattle slurry were measured under field conditions using a wind tunnel system that allows variables affecting ammonia loss to be examined under controlled conditions. The experiments were carried out on a sandy soil with seven different surface covers. This report considers the effect of wind speed, temperature and water vapour deficit on the ammonia loss over a series of 6-day periods. During October 1986 to November 1989 42 treatments were examined, using slurries taken from the same slurry tank to provide slurries of similar chemical composition.

When temperatures were near zero, the rate of ammonia loss was generally low. The accumulated loss over 6 days was high, however, because the rate of loss was constant throughout the period. In these experiments the soil was saturated with water and partly frozen, and the infiltration of slurry into the soil reduced. At 19 °C initial loss rates were high but, after 12 h, almost no further loss occurred. Apart from these extremes, the ammonia loss rates within the initial 24 h were significantly affected by temperature and wind speed.

Ammonia volatilization after 6 h was exponentially related to temperature (r2 = 0·841) but the correlation weakened with time after slurry application. An increase in ammonia volatilization with increasing water vapour pressure deficit was considered to be an effect of temperature.

The ammonia loss rate increased when wind speeds increased up to 2·5 m/s. No consistent increase in ammonia volatilization was found when the wind speed increased from 2·5 to 4 m/s. Ammonia loss after 24 h increased with increasing initial pH of the slurry.

A two-stage pattern for ammonia volatilization from slurry is proposed. During the first stage (the initial 24 h) ammonia loss rate is high due to an elevated pH at the slurry surface followingv application, and temperature significantly affects the loss rate. In the next stage, pH declines and the rate of ammonia volatilization decreases. During this stage other factors, including the dry matter content of the slurry, control the rate of ammonia loss.

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