Nitrogen and oxygen isotopic constraints on the origin of atmospheric nitrate in coastal Antarctica

J. Savarino, J. Kaiser, S. Morin, Daniel Mikhail Sigman, M. H. Thiemens

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Throughout the year 2001, aerosol samples were collected continuously for 10 to 15 days at the French Antarctic Station Dumont d'Urville (DDU) (66°40′S, 140°01′E, 40m above mean sea level). The nitrogen and oxygen isotopic ratios of particulate nitrate at DDU exhibit seasonal variations that are among the most extreme observed for nitrate on Earth. In association with concentration measurements, the isotope ratios delineate four distinct periods, broadly consistent with previous studies on Antarctic coastal areas. During austral autumn and early winter (March to mid-July), nitrate concentrations attain a minimum between 10 and 30ng m-3 (referred to as Period 2). Two local maxima in August (55ng m-3) and November/December (165ng m-3) are used to assign Period 3 (mid-July to September) and Period 4 (October to December). Period 1 (January to March) is a transition period between the maximum concentration of Period 4 and the background concentration of Period 2. These seasonal changes are reflected in changes of the nitrogen and oxygen isotope ratios. During Period 2, which is characterized by background concentrations, the isotope ratios are in the range of previous measurements at mid-latitudes: δ18O vsmow=(77.2±8.6)‰; Δ17O=(29. 8±4.4)‰; δ15Nair=(-4.4±5.4) ‰ (mean±one standard deviation). Period 3 is accompanied by a significant increase of the oxygen isotope ratios and a small increase of the nitrogen isotope ratio to δ18OVSmow=(98.8±13. 9)‰; Δ17O=(38.8±4.7)‰ and δ15Nair=(4.3±8.20‰). Period 4 is characterized by a minimum 15N/14N ratio, only matched by one prior study of Antarctic aerosols, and oxygen isotope ratios similar to Period 2: δ18Ovsmow=(77.2±7.7)‰; Δ17O=(31.1±3.2)‰;δ15N air=(-32.7±8.4)‰. Finally, during Period 1, isotope ratios reach minimum values for oxygen and intermediate values for nitrogen: δ18OVsmow=63.2±2.5‰ ; Δ17O=24.0±1.1‰; Δ15N air=-17.9±4.0‰). Based on the measured isotopic composition, known atmospheric transport patterns and the current understanding of kinetics and isotope effects of relevant atmospheric chemical processes, we suggest that elevated tropospheric nitrate levels during Period 3 are most likely the result of nitrate sedimentation from polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs), whereas elevated nitrate levels during Period 4 are likely to result from snow re-emission of nitrogen oxide species. We are unable to attribute the source of the nitrate during periods 1 and 2 to local production or long-range transport, but note that the oxygen isotopic composition is in agreement with day and night time nitrate chemistry driven by the diurnal solar cycle. A precise quantification is difficult, due to our insufficient knowledge of isotope fractionation during the reactions leading to nitrate formation, among other reasons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1925-1945
Number of pages21
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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