Marine denitrification rates determined from a global 3-D inverse model

T. DeVries, C. Deutsch, P. A. Rafter, F. Primeau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


A major impediment to understanding long-term changes in the marine nitrogen (N) cycle is the persistent uncertainty about the rates, distribution, and sensitivity of its largest fluxes in the modern ocean. We use a global ocean circulation model to obtain the first 3-D estimate of marine denitrification rates that is maximally consistent with available observations of nitrate deficits and the nitrogen isotopic ratio of oceanic nitrate. We find a global rate of marine denitrification in suboxic waters and sediments of 120-240 Tg N yr-1, which is lower than many other recent estimates. The difference stems from the ability to represent the 3-D spatial structure of suboxic zones, where denitrification rates of 50-77 TgN yr-1 result in up to 50 % depletion of nitrate. This depletion reduces the effect of local isotopic enrichment on the rest of the ocean, allowing the N isotope ratio of oceanic nitrate to be achieved with a sedimentary denitrification rate about 1.3-2.3 times that of suboxic zones. This balance of N losses between sediments and suboxic zones is shown to obey a simple relationship between isotope fractionation and the degree of nitrate consumption in the core of the suboxic zones. The global denitrification rates derived here suggest that the marine nitrogen budget is likely close to balanced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2481-2496
Number of pages16
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 15 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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