PerspectiveOceans

Interesting Times for Marine N2O

Science  12 Mar 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5971, pp. 1339-1340
DOI: 10.1126/science.1184945

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Summary

Although present in minute concentrations in Earth's atmosphere, nitrous oxide (N2O) is a highly potent greenhouse gas (1). It is also becoming a key factor in stratospheric ozone destruction (2). For the past ∼400,000 years, changes in atmospheric N2O appear to have roughly paralleled changes in CO2 and to have had modest impacts on climate (1), but this may change. Human activities may be causing an unprecedented rise in the terrestrial N2O source (2). Marine N2O production may also rise substantially as a result of eutrophication, warming, and ocean acidification. Because the marine environment is a net producer of N2O, much of this production will be lost to the atmosphere, thus further intensifying N2O's climatic impact.