Atmospheric nitrogen deposition influences denitrification and nitrous oxide production in lakes

Michelle L. Mccrackin, James J. Elser

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80 Scopus citations


Microbially mediated denitrification is an important process that may ameliorate the effects of nitrogen (N) loading by permanently removing excess N inputs. In this study, we measured the rate of denitrification and nitrous oxide (N2O) production during denitrification in sediments from 32 Norwegian lakes at the high and low ends of a gradient of atmospheric N deposition. Denitrification and N2O production rates averaged 41.7 and 1.1 μmol Nm-2,h-1, respectively, for high-deposition lakes. There was no detectable denitrification or N2O production in low-deposition lakes. Epilimnetic nitrate concentration was strongly correlated with denitrification rate (r2 = 0.67). We also measured the denitrification rate in response to experimental additions of organic carbon, nitrate, and phosphorus. Experimental nitrate additions stimulated denitrification in sediments of all lakes, regardless of N deposition level. In fact, the rate of denitrification in nitrate-amended treatments was the same magnitude for lakes in both deposition areas. These findings suggest that lake sediments possess considerable capacity to remove nitrate and that this capacity has not been saturated under conditions of chronic N loading. Further, nitrous oxide was nearly 3% of the total gaseous product during denitrification in high-deposition lakes, a fraction that is comparable to polluted marine sediments. Our findings suggest that, while lakes play an important role in N removal in the landscape, they may be a source of N 2O emissions, especially in areas subject to elevated N inputs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)528-539
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010


  • Atmospheric nitrogen deposition
  • Denitrification
  • Lakes
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Norway
  • Sediments


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