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Oceanic nitrogen cycling and N2O flux perturbations in the Anthropocene

Landolfi, A., C. J. Somes, W. Koeve, L. Zamora, and A. Oschlies (2017), Oceanic nitrogen cycling and N2O flux perturbations in the Anthropocene, Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 31, doi:10.1002/2017GB005633.

There is currently no consensus on how humans are affecting the marine nitrogen (N) cycle, which limits marine biological production and CO2 uptake. Anthropogenic changes in ocean warming, deoxygenation, and atmospheric N deposition can all individually affect the marine N cycle and the oceanic production of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O). However, the combined effect of these perturbations on marine N cycling, ocean productivity, and marine N2 O production is poorly understood. Here we use an Earth system model of intermediate complexity to investigate the combined effects of estimated 21st century CO2 atmospheric forcing and atmospheric N deposition. Our simulations suggest that anthropogenic perturbations cause only a small imbalance to the N cycle relative to preindustrial conditions (∼+5 Tg N y−1 in 2100). More N loss from water column denitrification in expanded oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) is counteracted by less benthic denitrification, due to the stratification-induced reduction in organic matter export. The larger atmospheric N load is offset by reduced N inputs by marine N2 fixation. Our model predicts a decline in oceanic N2O emissions by 2100. This is induced by the decrease in organic matter export and associated N2O production and by the anthropogenically driven changes in ocean circulation and atmospheric N2O concentrations. After comprehensively accounting for a series of complex physical-biogeochemical interactions, this study suggests that N flux imbalances are limited by biogeochemical feedbacks that help stabilize the marine N inventory against anthropogenic changes. These findings support the hypothesis that strong negative feedbacks regulate the marine N inventory on centennial time scales.

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Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program (ACMAP)