Project TitleDetermining the rates of denitrification, nitrification, and nitrogen fixation using natural abundance isotope profiles in North Atlantic sediments
AcronymNorth Atlantic Nitrate and Nitrite
URLhttps://www.bco-dmo.org/project/748767
CreatedOctober 23, 2018
ModifiedOctober 26, 2018

Project Description

Project Abstract:
Deep-sea sediments in the oligotrophic ocean host a diverse array of microbes that are involved in multiple processes within the nitrogen cycle. Using measurements of nitrate and nitrite, and their stable isotopes (d15N and d18O) in sedimentary pore fluids, we have been developing approaches for determining the distribution and magnitude of key processes in the oligotrophic sediments of the North Atlantic. While concentration profiles alone indicate the production of nitrate through nitrification in the surface sediments and the reduction of the nitrate deeper in the absence of oxygen, the dual stable isotope profiles of NO3- and NO2- demonstrate clear evidence of further complexity; specifically, that nitrite oxidation occurs deeper in the sediments as well, apparently in the absence of O2. A number of lines of evidence contribute to this refined understanding of the distribution of N cycling processes in these environments, including large differences in the nitrate and nitrite d15N, as well as the evolution of a greater than 1:1 relationship between the d15N and d18O of nitrate. We used a 1D inverse model that predicts the distribution and rates of different oxidative and reductive nitrogen cycling processes throughout these vertical profiles. Our analysis reveals that nitrate reduction and nitrite oxidation co-occur between 0 and 10 meters, and that the ratio of these processes changes in relation to the abundance of porewater oxygen. In the upper profile where dissolved oxygen is more abundant oxidative processes (e.g., nitrite re-oxidation) play an exceptionally large role, as reflected in the very high slope for the evolving relationship between d15N and d18O nitrate. Below the depth of oxygen penetration, while nitrate reduction becomes a substantially more important processes, a clear indication of oxidation remains – as reflected in the large difference between nitrate and nitrite d15N. All rates were predicted to be slow on the order of 0.1 mM per year, which was substantiated by d18O values of nitrite reflecting complete isotopic equilibration with water.

This project was funded by a C-DEBI Postdoctoral Fellowship to Carolyn Buchwald (advisor: Scott Wankel).

Project Maintainers

NameAffiliationRoleContact
Carolyn BuchwaldWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)Principal Investigator
Scott D. WankelWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)Co-Principal Investigator
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