The oceanic fixed nitrogen and nitrous oxide budgets: Moving targets as we enter the anthropocene?


  • L. A. Codispoti Univ. of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
  • Jay A. Brandes University of Texas, Marine Science Institute
  • J. P. Christensen Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
  • A. H. Devol School of Oceanography, University of Washington
  • S.W. A. Naqvi National Institute of Oceanography
  • Hans W. Paerl Institute of Marine Sciences, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • T. Yoshinari Wadsworth Center



Arabian Sea, denitrification, global change, Indian Shelf, nitrogen budget, nitrogen cycle, nitrogen fixation, nitrous oxide, suboxia


New data force us to raise previous estimates of oceanic denitrification. Our revised estimate of ~ 450 Tg N yr-1 (Tg = 1012 g) produces an oceanic fixed N budget with a large deficit (~ 200 Tg N yr-1) that can be explained only by positing an ocean that has deviated far from a steady-state, the need for a major upwards revision of fixed N inputs, particularly nitrogen fixation, or both. Oceanic denitrification can be significantly altered by small re-distributions of carbon and dissolved oxygen. Since fixed N is a limiting nutrient, uncompensated changes in denitrification affect the ocean´s ability to sequester atmospheric CO2 via the "biological pump". We have also had to modify our concepts of the oceanic N2O regime to take better account of the extremely high N2O saturations that can arise in productive, low oxygen waters. Recent results from the western Indian Shelf during a period when hypoxic, suboxic and anoxic waters were present produced a maximum surface N2O saturation of > 8000%, a likely consequence of "stop and go" denitrification. The sensitivity of N2O production and consumption to small changes in the oceanic dissolved oxygen distribution and to the "spin-up" phase of denitrification suggests that the oceanic source term for N2O could change rapidly.


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How to Cite

Codispoti LA, Brandes JA, Christensen JP, Devol AH, Naqvi SA, Paerl HW, Yoshinari T. The oceanic fixed nitrogen and nitrous oxide budgets: Moving targets as we enter the anthropocene?. scimar [Internet]. 2001Dec.30 [cited 2023May31];65(S2):85-105. Available from: