TitleTemperature Decouples Ammonium and Nitrite Oxidation in Coastal Waters
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsSchaefer SC, Hollibaugh JT
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Pagination3157 - 3164
Date Published04/2017

Nitrification is 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. Nitrite concentrations can exceed 10 μM during summer in estuarine waters adjacent to Sapelo Island, Georgia, U.S.A. Similar peaks at other locations have been attributed to decoupling of the two steps of nitrification by hypoxia; however, the waters around Sapelo Island are aerobic and well-mixed. 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. Analysis of field data from 270 stations in 29 temperate and subtropical estuaries and lagoons show transient accumulation of nitrite driven primarily by water temperatures, rather than by hypoxia. 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.


Short TitleEnviron. Sci. Technol.
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