Nitrogen substrate–dependent nitrous oxide cycling in salt marsh sediments

Qixing Ji, Andrew R. Babbin, Xuefeng Peng, Jennifer L. Bowen, Bettie Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Nitrous oxide (N2O) is important to Earth’s climate because it is a strong absorber of radiation and an important ozone depletion agent. Increasing anthropogenic nitrogen input into the marine environment, especially to coastal waters, has led to increasing N2O emissions. Identifying the nitrogen compounds that serve as substrates for N2O production in coastal waters reveals important pathways and helps us understand their control by environmental factors. In this study, sediments were collected from a long-term fertilization site in Great Sippewissett Marsh, Falmouth, Massachusetts. The 15N tracer incubation time course experiments were conducted and analyzed for potential N2O production and consumption rates. The two nitrogen substrates of N2O production, ammonium and nitrate, correspond to the two production pathways, nitrification and denitrification, respectively. When measurable nitrate was present, despite ambient high ammonium concentrations, denitrification was the major N2O production pathway. When nitrate was absent, ammonium became the dominant substrate for N2O production, via nitrification and coupled nitrification-denitrification. Net N2O consumption was enhanced under low oxygen and nitrate conditions. N2O production and consumption rates increased with increasing levels of nitrogen fertilization in long-term experimental plots. These results indicate that increasing anthropogenic nitrogen input to salt marshes can stimulate sedimentary N2O production via both nitrification and denitrification, whereas episodic oxygen depletion results in net N2O consumption.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-92
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Marine Research
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - May 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography


  • Denitrification
  • Long-term fertilization
  • N tracer
  • Nitrification
  • Nitrogen substrate
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Salt marsh
  • Sediment


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