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Rapid nitrous oxide cycling in the suboxic ocean

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Science  05 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6239, pp. 1127-1129
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa8380

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More N2O is no laughing matter

Because N2O is a potent greenhouse gas, tracking its sources and sinks—including those from natural processes—is imperative. Babbin et al. developed an isotopic tracer method to measure biological N2O reduction rates directly in the Eastern Tropical North Pacific Ocean. Incomplete denitrification results in the rapid cycling and net accumulation of N2O. As oxygen minimum zones expand in the global ocean, more N2O may enter the atmosphere than previously expected.

Science, this issue p. 1127

Abstract

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a powerful greenhouse gas and a major cause of stratospheric ozone depletion, yet its sources and sinks remain poorly quantified in the oceans. We used isotope tracers to directly measure N2O reduction rates in the eastern tropical North Pacific. Because of incomplete denitrification, N2O cycling rates are an order of magnitude higher than predicted by current models in suboxic regions, and the spatial distribution suggests strong dependence on both organic carbon and dissolved oxygen concentrations. Furthermore, N2O turnover is 20 times higher than the net atmospheric efflux. The rapid rate of this cycling coupled to an expected expansion of suboxic ocean waters implies future increases in N2O emissions.

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