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Abiotic nitrous oxide emission from the hypersaline Don Juan Pond in Antarctica

Abstract

Nitrous oxide is a potent atmospheric greenhouse gas1 that contributes to ozone destruction2. Biological processes such as nitrification and denitrification are thought to drive nitrous oxide production in soils, which comprise the largest source of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere1. Here we present measurements of the concentration and isotopic composition of nitrous oxide in soil pore spaces in samples taken near Don Juan Pond, a metabolically dormant hypersaline pond in Southern Victoria Land, Antarctica in 2006, 2007 and 2008, together with in situ fluxes of nitrous oxide from the soil to the atmosphere. We find fluxes of nitrous oxide that rival those measured in fertilized tropical soils3. Laboratory experiments—in which nitrite-rich brine was reacted with a variety of minerals containing Fe(II)—reveal a new mechanism of abiotic water–rock reaction that could support nitrous oxide fluxes at Don Juan Pond. Our findings illustrate a dynamic and unexpected link between the geosphere and atmosphere.

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Figure 1: Production of N2O in laboratory experiments.
Figure 2: N2O production as a function of temperature.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the US National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Program (ANT-0739516 to S.B.J., V.A.S. and M.T.M.) and the McMurdo Microbial Observatory program (MCB-0237576 to M.T.M. and MCB-0237335 to J.C.P.). We thank K. Welsh (MCM) and K. Hunter (UGA) for quantifying concentrations of dissolved inorganic nitrogen species; M. McIlvin and C. Frame (WHOI) for assistance with the N and O isotopic analyses; and C. Meile for helpful discussions.

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V.A.S., M.T.M., M.W.B., and J.C.P. conducted the fieldwork; V.A.S. and S.B.J. designed experiments and V.A.S. and M.W.B. carried them out; K.L.C. led the natural abundance nitrogen isotopic analyses and interpretation; C.P.M. provided insight to the Mars nitrogen cycle; S.B.J. wrote the paper and all authors commented on it.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Samantha B. Joye.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Samarkin, V., Madigan, M., Bowles, M. et al. Abiotic nitrous oxide emission from the hypersaline Don Juan Pond in Antarctica. Nature Geosci 3, 341–344 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo847

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