Denitrification in marine sediments: A model study


  • Jack J. Middelburg,

  • Karline Soetaert,

  • Peter M. J. Herman,

  • Carlo H. R. Heip


The rate and factors controlling denitrification in marine sediments have been investigated using a prognostic diagenetic model. The model is forced with observed carbon fluxes, bioturbation and sedimentation rates, and bottom water conditions. It can reproduce rates of aerobic mineralization, denitrification, and fluxes of oxygen, nitrate, and ammonium. The globally integrated rate of denitrification is estimated by this model to be about 230–285 Tg N yr−1, with about 100 Tg N yr−1 occurring in shelf sediments. This estimate is significantly higher than literature estimates (12–89 Tg N yr−1), mainly because of a proposed upward revision of denitrification rates in slope and deep-sea sediments. Higher sedimentary denitrification estimates require a revision of the marine nitrogen budget and lowering of the oceanic residence time of nitrogen down to about 2×103 years and are consistent with reported low N/P remineralization ratios between 1000 and 3000 m. Rates of benthic denitrification are most sensitive to the flux of labile organic carbon arriving at the sediment-water interface and bottom water concentrations of nitrate and oxygen. Denitrification always increases when bottom water nitrate increases but may increase or decrease if oxygen in the bottom water increases. Nitrification is by far the most important source of nitrate for denitrification, except for organic-rich sediments underlying oxygen-poor and nitrate-rich water.