Marine biogenic source of atmospheric organic nitrogen in the subtropical North Atlantic

Katye E. Altieri, Sarah E. Fawcett, Andrew J. Peters, Daniel Mikhail Sigman, Meredith G. Hastings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Global models estimate that the anthropogenic component of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition to the ocean accounts for up to a third of the ocean's external N supply and 10% of anthropogenic CO2 uptake. However, there are few observational constraints from the marine atmospheric environment to validate these findings. Due to the paucity of atmospheric organic N data, the largest uncertainties related to atmospheric N deposition are the sources and cycling of organic N, which is 20-80% of total N deposition. We studied the concentration and chemical composition of rainwater and aerosol organic N collected on the island of Bermuda in the western North Atlantic Ocean over 18 mo. Here, we show that thewater-soluble organic N concentration ([WSON]) in marine aerosol is strongly correlated with surface ocean primary productivity and wind speed, suggesting a marine biogenic source for aerosol WSON. The chemical composition of high-[WSON] aerosols also indicates a primary marine source. We find that the WSON in marine rain is compositionally different from that in concurrently collected aerosols, suggesting that in-cloud scavenging (as opposed to below-cloud "washout") is the main contributor to rain WSON. We conclude that anthropogenic activity is not a significant source of organic N to the marine atmosphere over the North Atlantic, despite downwind transport from large pollution sources in North America. This, in conjunction with previous work on ammonium and nitrate, leads to the conclusion that only 27% of total N deposition to the global ocean is anthropogenic, in contrast to the 80% estimated previously.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)925-930
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 26 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Aerosol
  • Atmospheric deposition
  • Marine atmosphere
  • Organic nitrogen
  • Rain


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