Letter | Published:

Isotopic constraints on marine and terrestrial N2O emissions during the last deglaciation

Nature volume 516, pages 234237 (11 December 2014) | Download Citation

Abstract

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting substance that has anthropogenic as well as natural marine and terrestrial sources1. The tropospheric N2O concentrations have varied substantially in the past in concert with changing climate on glacial–interglacial and millennial timescales2,3,4,5,6,7,8. It is not well understood, however, how N2O emissions from marine and terrestrial sources change in response to varying environmental conditions. The distinct isotopic compositions of marine and terrestrial N2O sources can help disentangle the relative changes in marine and terrestrial N2O emissions during past climate variations4,9,10. Here we present N2O concentration and isotopic data for the last deglaciation, from 16,000 to 10,000 years before present, retrieved from air bubbles trapped in polar ice at Taylor Glacier, Antarctica. With the help of our data and a box model of the N2O cycle, we find a 30 per cent increase in total N2O emissions from the late glacial to the interglacial, with terrestrial and marine emissions contributing equally to the overall increase and generally evolving in parallel over the last deglaciation, even though there is no a priori connection between the drivers of the two sources. However, we find that terrestrial emissions dominated on centennial timescales, consistent with a state-of-the-art dynamic global vegetation and land surface process model that suggests that during the last deglaciation emission changes were strongly influenced by temperature and precipitation patterns over land surfaces. The results improve our understanding of the drivers of natural N2O emissions and are consistent with the idea that natural N2O emissions will probably increase in response to anthropogenic warming11.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    et al. (eds) Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013)

  2. 2.

    et al. Variations in atmospheric N2O concentration during abrupt climatic changes. Science 285, 227–230 (1999)

  3. 3.

    et al. The response of atmospheric nitrous oxide to climate variations during the last glacial period. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 1888–1893 (2013)

  4. 4.

    , & Ice core records of atmospheric N2O covering the last 106,000 years. Science 301, 945–948 (2003)

  5. 5.

    et al. Atmospheric nitrous oxide during the last 140,000 years. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 300, 33–43 (2010)

  6. 6.

    et al. Atmospheric methane and nitrous oxide of the late Pleistocene from Antarctic ice cores. Science 310, 1317–1321 (2005)

  7. 7.

    et al. Glacial-interglacial and millennial-scale variations in the atmospheric nitrous oxide concentration during the last 800,000 years. Quat. Sci. Rev. 29, 182–192 (2010)

  8. 8.

    et al. N2O and CH4 variations during the last glacial epoch: insight into global processes. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 18, GB1020 (2004)

  9. 9.

    et al. Temporal variations of the atmospheric nitrous oxide concentration and its δ15N and δ18O for the latter half of the 20th century reconstructed from firn air analyses. J. Geophys. Res. 112, D03305 (2007)

  10. 10.

    , & The isotopic fingerprint of the pre-industrial and the anthropogenic N2O source. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 3, 315–323 (2003)

  11. 11.

    et al. Multiple greenhouse-gas feedbacks from the land biosphere under future climate change scenarios. Nature Clim. Change 3, 666–672 (2013)

  12. 12.

    , & Reactive greenhouse gas scenarios: systematic exploration of uncertainties and the role of atmospheric chemistry. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L09803 (2012)

  13. 13.

    & A model study of atmospheric temperatures and the concentrations of ozone, hydroxyl, and some other photochemically active gases during the glacial, the preindustrial Holocene and the present. Geophys. Res. Lett. 20, 1047–1050 (1993)

  14. 14.

    , & The chemical composition of ancient atmospheres: a model study constrained by ice core data. J. Geophys. Res. 100, 14291–14304 (1995)

  15. 15.

    Wais Divide Project Members. Onset of deglacial warming in West Antarctica driven by local orbital forcing. Nature 500, 440–444 (2013)

  16. 16.

    et al. Atmospheric CO2 concentration from 60 to 20 kyr BP from the Taylor Dome Ice Core, Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett. 27, 735–738 (2000)

  17. 17.

    et al. Constraints on N2O budget changes since pre-industrial time from new firn air and ice core isotope measurements. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 6, 493–503 (2006)

  18. 18.

    & &. The NICOPP working group members. The acceleration of oceanic denitrification during deglacial warming. Nature Geosci. 6, 579–584 (2013)

  19. 19.

    , , & Changes in global nitrogen cycling during the Holocene epoch. Nature 495, 352–355 (2013)

  20. 20.

    et al. Inverse modeling estimates of the global nitrous oxide surface flux from 1998–2001. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 20, GB1008 (2006)

  21. 21.

    , & A modeling study of oceanic nitrous oxide during the Younger Dryas cold period. Geophys. Res. Lett. 30, 1092 (2003)

  22. 22.

    & Glacial greenhouse-gas fluctuations controlled by ocean circulation changes. Nature 456, 373–376 (2008)

  23. 23.

    et al. Estimated strength of the Atlantic overturning circulation during the last deglaciation. Nature Geosci. 6, 208–212 (2013)

  24. 24.

    & Large climate-driven changes of oceanic oxygen concentrations during the last deglaciation. Nature Geosci. 5, 151–156 (2012)

  25. 25.

    et al. Transient simulation of last deglaciation with a new mechanism for Bølling-Allerød warming. Science 325, 310–314 (2009)

  26. 26.

    et al. The Antarctic ice core chronology (AICC2012): an optimized multi-parameter and multi-site dating approach for the last 120 thousand years. Clim. Past 9, 1733–1748 (2013)

  27. 27.

    NGRIP Members. High-resolution record of Northern Hemisphere climate extending into the last interglacial period. Nature 431, 147–151 (2004)

  28. 28.

    EPICA Community Members. One-to-one coupling of glacial climate variability in Greenland and Antarctica. Nature 444, 195–198 (2006)

  29. 29.

    et al. High-resolution Holocene N2O ice core record and its relationship with CH4 and CO2. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 16, 1010 (2002)

  30. 30.

    et al. Expression of the bipolar see-saw in Antarctic climate records during the last deglaciation. Nature Geosci. 4, 46–49 (2011)

  31. 31.

    et al. Trends and seasonal cycles in the isotopic composition of nitrous oxide since 1940. Nature Geosci. 5, 261–265 (2012)

  32. 32.

    , , & Online technique for isotope and mixing ratios of CH4, N2O, Xe and mixing ratios of organic trace gases on a single ice core sample. Atmos. Meas. Tech. 7, 2645–2665 (2014)

  33. 33.

    N2O record spanning the penultimate deglaciation from the Vostok ice core. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 31903–31914 (2001)

  34. 34.

    et al. Simultaneous stable isotope analysis of methane and nitrous oxide on ice core samples. Atmos. Meas. Tech. 4, 2607–2618 (2011)

  35. 35.

    et al. An automated GC-C-GC-IRMS setup to measure palaeoatmospheric δ13C-CH4, δ15N-N2O and δ18O-N2O in one ice core sample. Atmos. Meas. Tech. 6, 2027–2041 (2013)

  36. 36.

    , , & High-precision dual-inlet IRMS measurements of the stable isotopes of CO2 and the N2O/CO2 ratio from polar ice core samples. Atmos. Meas. Tech. 7, 3825–3837 (2014)

  37. 37.

    Stable Isotope Investigations of Atmospheric Nitrous Oxide 17–21. PhD thesis, Johannes Gutenberg Univ. Mainz. (2002)

  38. 38.

    & Application of dynamic programming to the correlation of paleoclimate records. Paleoceanography 17, 1049 (2002)

  39. 39.

    , & Assessment of diffusive isotopic fractionation in polar firn, and application to ice core trace gas records. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 361, 110–119 (2013)

  40. 40.

    A note on isotopic ratios and the global atmospheric methane budget. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 11, 77–81 (1997)

  41. 41.

    , , & Extending records of the isotopic composition of atmospheric N2O back to 1800 AD from air trapped in snow at the South Pole and the Greenland Ice Sheet Project II ice core. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 16, 1129 (2002)

  42. 42.

    Modeling Forcings and Responses in the Global Carbon Cycle-Climate System: Past, Present and Future. PhD thesis, Univ. Bern. (2013)

  43. 43.

    et al. Transient simulations of the carbon and nitrogen dynamics in northern peatlands: from the Last Glacial Maximum to the 21st century. Clim. Past 9, 1287–1308 (2013)

  44. 44.

    et al. Evaluation of ecosystem dynamics, plant geography and terrestrial carbon cycling in the LPJ dynamic global vegetation model. Glob. Change Biol. 9, 161–185 (2003)

  45. 45.

    et al. Transient simulations of Holocene atmospheric carbon dioxide and terrestrial carbon since the Last Glacial Maximum. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 18, GB2002 (2004)

  46. 46.

    et al. Terrestrial vegetation and water balance - hydrological evaluation of a dynamic global vegetation model. J. Hydrol. (Amst.) 286, 249–270 (2004)

  47. 47.

    , & Integrating peatlands and permafrost into a dynamic global vegetation model: 1. Evaluation and sensitivity of physical land surface processes. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 23, GB3014 (2009)

  48. 48.

    , & Integrating peatlands and permafrost into a dynamic global vegetation model: 2. Evaluation and sensitivity of vegetation and carbon cycle processes. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 23, GB3015 (2009)

  49. 49.

    Terrestrial nitrogen cycle simulation with a dynamic global vegetation model. Glob. Change Biol. 14, 1745–1764 (2008)

  50. 50.

    , & Modelling terrestrial nitrous oxide emissions and implications for climate feedback. New Phytol. 196, 472–488 (2012)

  51. 51.

    , & Implementation and evaluation of a new methane model within a dynamic global vegetation model: LPJ-WHyMe v1.3.1. Geosci. Model Dev. 3, 565–584 (2010)

  52. 52.

    et al. Constraining global methane emissions and uptake by ecosystems. Biogeosciences 8, 1643–1665 (2011)

  53. 53.

    et al. Impact of an abrupt cooling event on interglacial methane emissions in northern peatlands. Biogeosciences 10, 1963–1981 (2013)

  54. 54.

    , , & The effect of abrupt climatic warming on biogeochemical cycling and N2O emissions in a terrestrial ecosystem. Palaeogeogr. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol. 391, 74–83 (2013)

  55. 55.

    Simulating Transient Climate Evolution of the Last Deglaciation with CCSM3. PhD thesis, Univ. Wisconsin-Madison. (2011)

  56. 56.

    & An improved method of constructing a database of monthly climate observations and associated high-resolution grids. Int. J. Climatol. 25, 693–712 (2005)

  57. 57.

    & Rates of change in natural and anthropogenic radiative forcing over the past 20,000 years. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 1425–1430 (2008)

  58. 58.

    Long-term variations of daily insolation and quaternary climatic changes. J. Atmos. Sci. 35, 2362–2367 (1978)

  59. 59.

    Global glacial isostasy and the surface of the ice-age Earth: The ICE-5G (VM2) model and GRACE. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 32, 111–149 (2004)

  60. 60.

    & Two-isotope characterization of N2O in the Pacific Ocean and constraints on its origin in deep water. Nature 347, 58–61 (1990)

  61. 61.

    et al. Nitrogen and oxygen isotopic composition of N2O from suboxic waters of the eastern tropical North Pacific and the Arabian Sea—measurement by continuous-flow isotope-ratio monitoring. Mar. Chem. 56, 253–264 (1997)

  62. 62.

    & Nitrogen-15 and oxygen-18 characteristics of nitrous oxide: a global perspective. Science 262, 1855–1857 (1993)

  63. 63.

    et al. Isotopic variability of N2O emissions from tropical forest soils. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 14, 525–535 (2000)

  64. 64.

    & Stable isotope enrichment in stratospheric nitrous oxide. Science 278, 1776–1778 (1997)

  65. 65.

    et al. Isotopic enrichment of nitrous oxide (15N14NO, 14N15NO, 14N14N18O) in the stratosphere and in the laboratory. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 10403–10410 (2001)

Download references

Acknowledgements

Financial support was provided by the Swiss National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US NSF, including a Swiss NSF Fellowship for Prospective Researchers (139404) to A.S., US NSF Grant PLR08-38936 to E.J.B. and US NSF Grant PLR08-39031 to J.P.S. Further support came from the Marsden Fund Council from New Zealand Government funding, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand. We thank C. Buizert, X. Faïn, J. Lee, L. Mitchell and P. Rose for fieldwork, R. Roth for providing the Bern3D Earth System Model run, J. Schwander for providing the NEEM firn air cylinder, S. Jaccard for comments and A. Ross for lab assistance. We thank B. Otto-Bliesner and Z. Liu for providing climate data from the TraCE-21ka model computation, which was carried out at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computational Facility, sponsored by the US Department of Energy, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research Supercomputing Facility, sponsored by the US NSF. The TraCE-21ka project was supported by the US NSF and the US Department of Energy.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

    • Adrian Schilt
    • , Edward J. Brook
    •  & Thomas K. Bauska
  2. Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, and Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, 3012 Bern, Switzerland

    • Adrian Schilt
    • , Hubertus Fischer
    • , Fortunat Joos
    • , Jochen Schmitt
    • , Renato Spahni
    •  & Thomas F. Stocker
  3. Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, California 92037, USA

    • Daniel Baggenstos
    •  & Jeffrey P. Severinghaus
  4. Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14627, USA

    • Vasilii V. Petrenko
  5. National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Wellington 6021, New Zealand

    • Hinrich Schaefer

Authors

  1. Search for Adrian Schilt in:

  2. Search for Edward J. Brook in:

  3. Search for Thomas K. Bauska in:

  4. Search for Daniel Baggenstos in:

  5. Search for Hubertus Fischer in:

  6. Search for Fortunat Joos in:

  7. Search for Vasilii V. Petrenko in:

  8. Search for Hinrich Schaefer in:

  9. Search for Jochen Schmitt in:

  10. Search for Jeffrey P. Severinghaus in:

  11. Search for Renato Spahni in:

  12. Search for Thomas F. Stocker in:

Contributions

J.P.S., V.V.P. and E.J.B. initiated and led the Taylor Glacier project. T.K.B., E.J.B., D.B., V.V.P., H.S., A.S. and J.P.S. performed fieldwork. A.S. set up the experimental apparatus for N2O isotopes and carried out the measurements, with great support from T.K.B., E.J.B. and J.S. Intercomparison measurements were performed by J.S. at the University of Bern and by T.K.B. at Oregon State University. D.B. and T.K.B. developed the timescale for Taylor Glacier. A.S. and F.J. performed the box modelling. R.S. and F.J. produced and interpreted the LPX-Bern model results. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the manuscript, which was written by A.S.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Adrian Schilt.

Extended data

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13971

Further reading

  • Antarctic and global climate history viewed from ice cores

    • Edward J. Brook
    •  & Christo Buizert

    Nature (2018)

  • Palaeoclimate constraints on the impact of 2 °C anthropogenic warming and beyond

    • Hubertus Fischer
    • , Katrin J. Meissner
    • , Alan C. Mix
    • , Nerilie J. Abram
    • , Jacqueline Austermann
    • , Victor Brovkin
    • , Emilie Capron
    • , Daniele Colombaroli
    • , Anne-Laure Daniau
    • , Kelsey A. Dyez
    • , Thomas Felis
    • , Sarah A. Finkelstein
    • , Samuel L. Jaccard
    • , Erin L. McClymont
    • , Alessio Rovere
    • , Johannes Sutter
    • , Eric W. Wolff
    • , Stéphane Affolter
    • , Pepijn Bakker
    • , Juan Antonio Ballesteros-Cánovas
    • , Carlo Barbante
    • , Thibaut Caley
    • , Anders E. Carlson
    • , Olga Churakova
    • , Giuseppe Cortese
    • , Brian F. Cumming
    • , Basil A. S. Davis
    • , Anne de Vernal
    • , Julien Emile-Geay
    • , Sherilyn C. Fritz
    • , Paul Gierz
    • , Julia Gottschalk
    • , Max D. Holloway
    • , Fortunat Joos
    • , Michal Kucera
    • , Marie-France Loutre
    • , Daniel J. Lunt
    • , Katarzyna Marcisz
    • , Jennifer R. Marlon
    • , Philippe Martinez
    • , Valerie Masson-Delmotte
    • , Christoph Nehrbass-Ahles
    • , Bette L. Otto-Bliesner
    • , Christoph C. Raible
    • , Bjørg Risebrobakken
    • , María F. Sánchez Goñi
    • , Jennifer Saleem Arrigo
    • , Michael Sarnthein
    • , Jesper Sjolte
    • , Thomas F. Stocker
    • , Patricio A. Velasquez Alvárez
    • , Willy Tinner
    • , Paul J. Valdes
    • , Hendrik Vogel
    • , Heinz Wanner
    • , Qing Yan
    • , Zicheng Yu
    • , Martin Ziegler
    •  & Liping Zhou

    Nature Geoscience (2018)

  • Growing feedback from ocean carbon to climate

    • Fortunat Joos

    Nature (2015)

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.