The biogeochemistry of nitrous oxide in permanently ice-covered lakes of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica


J.C. Priscufax +1/406 994-5863,


This manuscript presents an overview of published work on nitrous oxide in the permanently ice-covered lakes of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. One of these lakes contains the highest concentration of nitrous oxide reported for natural aquatic systems (?ƒ?žbg 500 000% with respect to the global average mixing ratio in air). Recent data on nitrous oxide from the major lakes in this region of Antarctica are used to draw general conclusions regarding sources and sinks for this gas within the liquid water column, and to estimate exchanges with the atmosphere. Nitrous oxide maxima are usually found in regions where oxygen concentrations and redox potentials are decreasing (i.e. where high gradients exist); nitrous oxide is virtually absent in anoxic, and very low redox zones. These trends, together with positive relationships between apparent oxygen utilization (AOU) and apparent nitrous oxide production (ANP) indicate that nitrous oxide is primarily a product of nitrification; experiments showed that denitrification is a sink for this gas in anoxic water. ANP/AOU ratios are several orders of magnitude higher than that for the ocean. Yield ratios for nitrous oxide [ANP/(NO2+NO3)] averaged 4.2% (i.e. 1 atom of N appears in nitrous oxide for every 24 atoms appearing in oxidized N), greatly exceeding existing reports for pelagic systems, being similar to that from reduced sediments. Production and consumption rates, computed with a one-dimensional diffusion model, ranged from 0 to 5.3 nM-N d–1 and 0–2.7 nM-N d–1, respectively. Rates were usually greatest in the region of largest oxygen and inorganic nitrogen gradients. Turnover times averaged 2917 and 1277 years for production and consumption which is in the range of the mixing times for the lakes. Areal flux from the lakes to the atmosphere (6.17 gN m–2 y–1) is several hundred times greater than areal fluxes reported for oceanic systems. Owing to the relatively small combined surface area of these lakes, absolute atmospheric transfer (1.2 × 105 gN y–1) is only a small fraction of annual global emission.