Ammonia and nitrite oxidation in the Eastern Tropical North Pacific

Xuefeng Peng, Clara A. Fuchsman, Amal Jayakumar, Sergey Oleynik, Willm Martens-Habbena, Allan H. Devol, Bettie Ward

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Nitrification plays a key role in the marine nitrogen (N) cycle, including in oceanic oxygen minimum zones (OMZs), which are hot spots for denitrification and anaerobic ammonia oxidation (anammox). Recent evidence suggests that nitrification links the source (remineralized organic matter) and sink (denitrification and anammox) of fixed N directly in the steep oxycline in the OMZs. We performed shipboard incubations with 15N tracers to characterize the depth distribution of nitrification in the Eastern Tropical North Pacific (ETNP). Additional experiments were conducted to investigate photoinhibition. Allylthiourea (ATU) was used to distinguish the contribution of archaeal and bacterial ammonia oxidation. The abundance of archaeal and β-proteobacterial ammonia monooxygenase gene subunit A (amoA) was determined by quantitative polymerase chain reaction. The rates of ammonia and nitrite oxidation showed distinct subsurface maxima, with the latter slightly deeper than the former. The ammonia oxidation maximum coincided with the primary nitrite concentration maximum, archaeal amoA gene maximum, and the subsurface nitrous oxide maximum. Negligible rates of ammonia oxidation were found at anoxic depths, where high rates of nitrite oxidation were measured. Archaeal amoA gene abundance was generally 1 to 2 orders of magnitude higher than bacterial amoA gene abundance, and inhibition of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria with 10 μM ATU did not affect ammonia oxidation rates, indicating the dominance of archaea in ammonia oxidation. These results depict highly dynamic activities of ammonia and nitrite oxidation in the oxycline of the ETNP OMZ.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2034-2049
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science


  • Eastern Tropical North Pacific
  • ammonia oxidation
  • nitrification
  • nitrite oxidation
  • oxycline
  • oxygen minimum zone


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