Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a greenhouse gas and an ozone depletion agent. Estuaries that are subject to seasonal anoxia are generally regarded as N2O sources. However, insufficient understanding of the environmental controls on N2O production results in large uncertainty about the estuarine contribution to the global N2O budget. Incubation experiments with nitrogen stable isotope tracer were used to investigate the geochemical factors controlling N2O production from denitrification in the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in North America. The highest potential rates of water column N2O production via denitrification (7.5±1.2 nmol-N L-1 h-1) were detected during summer anoxia, during which oxidized nitrogen species (nitrate and nitrite) were absent from the water column. At the top of the anoxic layer, N2O production from denitrification was stimulated by addition of nitrate and nitrite. The relative contribution of nitrate and nitrite to N2O production was positively correlated with the ratio of nitrate to nitrite concentrations. Increased oxygen availability, up to 7 μmol L-1 oxygen, inhibited both N2O production and the reduction of nitrate to nitrite. In spring, high oxygen and low abundance of denitrifying microbes resulted in undetectable N2O production from denitrification. Thus, decreasing the nitrogen input into the Chesapeake Bay has two potential impacts on the N2O production: a lower availability of nitrogen substrates may mitigate short-term N2O emissions during summer anoxia; and, in the long-run (timescale of years), eutrophication will be alleviated and subsequent reoxygenation of the bay will further inhibit N2O production.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Earth-Surface Processes