Document Type

Article

Department or Administrative Unit

Biological Sciences

Publication Date

1-4-2011

Abstract

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and stratospheric ozone destruction. Anthropogenic nitrogen (N) loading to river networks is a potentially important source of N2O via microbial denitrification that converts N to N2O and dinitrogen (N2). The fraction of denitrified N that escapes as N2O rather than N2 (i.e., the N2O yield) is an important determinant of how much N2O is produced by river networks, but little is known about the N2O yield in flowing waters. Here, we present the results of whole-stream 15N-tracer additions conducted in 72 headwater streams draining multiple land-use types across the United States. We found that stream denitrification produces N2O at rates that increase with stream water nitrate (NO3) concentrations, but that <1% of denitrified N is converted to N2O. Unlike some previous studies, we found no relationship between the N2O yield and stream water NO3. We suggest that increased stream NO3 loading stimulates denitrification and concomitant N2O production, but does not increase the N2O yield. In our study, most streams were sources of N2O to the atmosphere and the highest emission rates were observed in streams draining urban basins. Using a global river network model, we estimate that microbial N transformations (e.g., denitrification and nitrification) convert at least 0.68 Tg·y−1 of anthropogenic N inputs to N2O in river networks, equivalent to 10% of the global anthropogenic N2O emission rate. This estimate of stream and river N2O emissions is three times greater than estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Comments

This article was originally published Open Access in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

Journal

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Rights

Copyright the authors, 2011

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