Multiple metabolisms constrain the anaerobic nitrite budget in the Eastern Tropical South Pacific

Andrew R. Babbin, Brian D. Peters, Calvin W. Mordy, Brittany Widner, Karen L. Casciotti, Bess B. Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


The Eastern Tropical South Pacific is one of the three major oxygen deficient zones (ODZs) in the global ocean and is responsible for approximately one third of marine water column nitrogen loss. It is the best studied of the ODZs and, like the others, features a broad nitrite maximum across the low oxygen layer. How the microbial processes that produce and consume nitrite in anoxic waters interact to sustain this feature is unknown. Here we used 15N-tracer experiments to disentangle five of the biologically mediated processes that control the nitrite pool, including a high-resolution profile of nitrogen loss rates. Nitrate reduction to nitrite likely depended on organic matter fluxes, but the organic matter did not drive detectable rates of denitrification to N2. However, multiple lines of evidence show that denitrification is important in shaping the biogeochemistry of this ODZ. Significant rates of anaerobic nitrite oxidation at the ODZ boundaries were also measured. Iodate was a potential oxidant that could support part of this nitrite consumption pathway. We additionally observed N2 production from labeled cyanate and postulate that anammox bacteria have the ability to harness cyanate as another form of reduced nitrogen rather than relying solely on ammonification of complex organic matter. The balance of the five anaerobic rates measured—anammox, denitrification, nitrate reduction, nitrite oxidation, and dissimilatory nitrite reduction to ammonium—is sufficient to reproduce broadly the observed nitrite and nitrate profiles in a simple one-dimensional model but requires an additional source of reduced nitrogen to the deeper ODZ to avoid ammonium overconsumption.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)258-271
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


  • anammox
  • denitrification
  • nitrite oxidation
  • nitrogen cycle
  • oxygen deficient zones


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