Abstract

Direct determination of nitrate and soil moisture can significantly improve N-application management and thus reduce N-derived environmental pollution related to agriculture. Several studies have shown that Fourier transform infrared attenuated total reflectance (FT-IR/ATR) spectroscopy could be used to estimate the nitrate content of standardized soil pastes. Paste standardization appeared to be the main obstacle to <i>in situ</i> application of this approach, and the present study shows how FT-IR/ATR can be used to estimate both water content and nitrate concentration of field soil samples. Water content and nitrate concentration are determined sequentially using two subsamples of the initial soil sample. An a <i>priori</i> determined amount of highly concentrated nitrate solution is added to the first subsample and the ATR spectrum of this paste is used to estimate the sample water content. It is then possible to calculate the amount of water that should be added to the second subsample so that the resulting paste is very close to the ideal standard paste. Nitrate concentration, mg [N]/kg [dry soil], is estimated using the FT-IR/ATR spectrum of this second paste. Results are presented for a laboratory experiment with four agricultural soils, as well as for a field trial with a calcareous soil. For water content, the determination errors range from 0.01 to 0.02 g [water]/g [dry soil]. For nitrate concentration, the errors for three of the soils range from 5.9 to 8.4 mg [N]/kg [dry soil], while for the fourth, calcareous clay soil, the determination error is 13.6 mg [N]/kg [dry soil]. The determination errors obtained for the field trial are similar to the ones obtained for a similar soil under laboratory conditions, which shows the potential usefulness of the approach for improving N-application management and reducing environmental pollution.

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