Ocean Denitrification

Denitrification is a microbially facilitated process of nitrate reduction that may ultimately produce molecular nitrogen (N2) through a series of intermediate gaseous nitrogen oxide products. In general, it occurs where oxygen, a more energetically favorable electron acceptor, is depleted, and bacteria respire nitrate as a substitute terminal electron acceptor. Denitrification only takes place in anoxic environments where oxygen consumption exceeds the oxygen supply and where sufficient quantities of nitrate are present. As ice sheets melted during the deglaciation of the last ice age and global oceans warmed, oceanic oxygen levels decreased and denitrification accelerated by 30 to 120 percent, a new international study shows, creating oxygen-poor marine regions and throwing the oceanic nitrogen cycle off balance. By the end of the deglaciation, however, the oceans had adjusted to their new warmer state and the nitrogen cycle had stabilized – though it took several millennia. Recent increases in global warming, thought to be caused by human activities, are raising concerns that denitrification may adversely affect marine environments over the next few hundred years, with potentially significant effects on ocean food webs.
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