Accelerated Rates of Nitrogen Cycling and N2O Production in Salt Marsh Sediments due to Long-Term Fertilization

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Xuefeng Peng1, Qixing Ji1, John Angell2, Patrick Kearns2, Jennifer L Bowen2 and Bess B Ward1, (1)Princeton University, Geosciences, Princeton, NJ, United States, (2)University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA, United States
Intensified sedimentary production of nitrous oxide (N2O), one of the most potent greenhouse gases, is one of the many possible environmental consequences of elevated nitrogen (N) loading into estuarine ecosystems. This study investigates the response to over 40 years of fertilization of nitrogen removal processes in the sediments of the Great Sippewissett Marsh in Falmouth, MA. Sediment slurries were incubated (1.5 hr) with trace amounts (< 10% of ambient concentration) of 15NH4+ + 14NO3- or 15NO3- + 14NH4+. An additional parallel incubation with 15NH4+ + 14NO3- and 1 mM of allylthiourea (ATU) was included to measure rates of anaerobic ammonia oxidation (anammox). Well-homogenized slurries filled about 10% of the volume in the gas-tight incubation vials, and the rest of the volume was replaced with an O2/He (20%/80%) mixture. The production of 29N2, 44N2O and 45N2O were determined using isotope ratio mass spectrometry.

The rate of total N2O production in fertilized sediments (0.89 nmol hr-1 g-1 wet weight) was 30-fold higher than in unfertilized sediments. The ratio of N2O to N2 production was also significantly higher in fertilized sediments (2.9%) than in unfertilized sediments (1.2%). This highlights the disproportionally large effect of long-term fertilization on N2O production in salt marsh sediments. The reduced oxygen level and higher ammonium concentrations in situ probably contributed to the significant rise in N2O production as a result of long-term fertilization. When detected, anammox and coupled nitrification-denitrification accounted for 10% and 14% of the total N2 production in fertilized sediments (30.5 nmol hr-1 g-1 wet weight), respectively, whereas neither was detected in unfertilized sediments. Thus these experiments indicate that N loading has important effects on multiple N cycle processes that result in N loss and N2O production.