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Environ Sci Technol. 2013 May 7;47(9):4189-96. doi: 10.1021/es304842r. Epub 2013 Apr 3.

Controls on nitrogen loss processes in Chesapeake Bay sediments.

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Department of Geosciences, Princeton University, Guyot Hall, Washington Road, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA.


The flux of fixed nitrogen into the marine environment is increasing as a direct result of anthropogenic nitrogen loading, but the controls on the mechanisms responsible for the removal of this increased supply are not well constrained. The fate of fixed nitrogen via mineralization and nitrogen loss processes was investigated by simulating a settling event of organic matter (OM) in mesocosms containing Chesapeake Bay sediments. Microorganisms rapidly transformed the OM during the course of a seven week incubation ultimately leading to nitrogen loss via denitrification and anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox). The microbial community responded quickly to the OM amendment suggesting that estuarine sediments can buffer the natural system against sudden injections of organic material. Two different levels of organic matter amendment resulted in different magnitudes of ammonium and nitrite accumulation during the incubation, but both treatments exhibited the same overall sequence of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) accumulation and removal. An inverse least-squares analysis coupled to a Michaelis-Menten prognostic model was conducted to estimate rates of nitrogen transformations from the measured DIN concentrations. Whereas the rates were higher at higher OM, the percentage of nitrogen lost via anammox was constant at 44.3 ± 0.3%. The stoichiometry of organic matter and the allochthonous supply of ammonium determined the relative contribution of anammox and denitrification to overall nitrogen loss. Further, in situ thermodynamics based on measured concentrations suggested that the energy favorability of denitrification and anammox plays a role in determining the timing of these processes as OM remineralization progresses.

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