Nitrous oxide production in surface waters of the mid-latitude North Atlantic Ocean

Qixing Ji, Bettie Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The ocean is a major source of atmospheric nitrous oxide (N2O), an important greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting agent. The oceanic flux of N2O varies regionally, and in the midlatitude North Atlantic, the production of N2O is poorly constrained. Incubation experiments with 15N-ammonium and 15N-nitrite revealed active N2O production from ammonium oxidation and nitrite reduction in the surface ocean, suggesting the midlatitude North Atlantic could be a net source for N2O, with a flux density of 0.06 µmol-N2O m−2 d−1 in the top 120 m. The peak of N2O production was detected in the upper 100 m, shallower than the depth at which highest rates of ammonium oxidation to nitrite occurred. Oxygen was not depleted in the water column, but its concentration minimum corresponded to highest N2O oversaturation and low in situ N2O production. The apparent N2O yield, i.e., the molar ratio of N2O-N production over nitrite production was 1.7% at the peak N2O production depths in the surface layer and decreased to less than 0.1% at peak ammonium oxidation depths. The majority of N2O production was apparently through “hybrid formation,” in which ammonium and nitrite each contribute one nitrogen atom to N2O formation, a process that is proposed to be mediated by ammonia oxidizing archaea.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2612-2621
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Oceanography


  • N tracer
  • North Atlantic
  • hybrid formation
  • nitrous oxide
  • surface ocean


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