Anaerobic ammonium oxidation in the oxygen-deficient waters off northern Chile

Thamdrup, Bo, Tage Dalsgaard, Marlene Mark Jensen, Osvaldo Ulloa, Laura Farías, Ruben Escribano

Limnol. Oceanogr., 51(5), 2006, 2145-2156 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2006.51.5.2145

ABSTRACT: We investigated the pathways of N2 production in the oxygen-deficient water column of the eastern tropical South Pacific off Iquique, Chile, at 20°S, through short anoxic incubations with 15N-labelled nitrogen compounds. The location was characterized by steep chemical gradients, with oxygen decreasing to below detection at ~50-m depth, while nitrite reached 6 µmol L-1 and ammonium was less than 50 nmol L-1. Ammonium was oxidized to N2 with no lag phase during the incubations, and when only NH4+ was 15N-labeled, 15N appeared in the form of 14N15N, whereas 15N15N was not detected. Likewise, nitrite was reduced to N2 at rates similar to the rates of ammonium oxidation, and when only NO2- was 15N-labeled, 15N appeared mainly as 14N15N, whereas 15N15N appeared in only one incubation. These observations indicate that ammonium was oxidized and nitrite was reduced through the anammox reaction, whereas denitrification was generally not detected and, therefore, was a minor sink for nitrite. Anammox rates were highest, up to 0.7 nmol N2 L-1 h-1, just below the oxycline, whereas rates were undetectable, <0.2 nmol N2 L-1 h-1, deeper in the oxygen-deficient zone. Instead of complete denitrification to N2, oxidation of organic matter during the incubations may have been coupled to reduction of nitrate to nitrite. This process was evident from strong increases in nitrite concentrations toward the end of the incubations. The results point to anammox as an active process in the major open-ocean oxygen-deficient zones, which are generally recognized as important sites of denitrification. Still, denitrification remains the simplest explanation for most of the nitrogen deficiency in these zones.

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