Feb 22, 2017

Temperature Decouples Ammonium and Nitrite Oxidation in Coastal Waters

Sylvia C. Schaefer and James T. Hollibaugh
Environmental Science & Technology
  • Defines nitrification as a two-step process linking the reduced and oxidized sides of the nitrogen cycle; these steps are typically tightly coupled with the primary intermediate, nitrite, rarely accumulating in coastal environments
  • Experiments examining the response to temperature shifts of a nitrifying assemblage composed of the same organisms found in the field indicate that ammonia- and nitrite-oxidation become uncoupled between 20 and 30 °C, leading to nitrite accumulation
  • This suggests that nitrite peaks in coastal waters might be explained by differences in the responses of ammonia- and nitrite-oxidizers to increased summer temperatures
  • Analyzes field data from 270 stations in 29 temperate and subtropical estuaries and lagoons
  • Shows that transient accumulation of nitrite is driven primarily by water temperatures, rather than by hypoxia
  • Concludes that increased climate variability and warming coastal waters may therefore increase the frequency of these nitrite peaks, with potential ecosystem consequences that include increased N2O production, NO2– toxicity, and shifts in phytoplankton community composition