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Enzyme-level interconversion of nitrate and nitrite in the fall mixed layer of the Antarctic Ocean

By P. C. Kemeny, M. A. Weigand, R. Zhang, B. R. Carter, K. L. Karsh, S. E. Fawcett and D. M. Sigman


In the Southern Ocean, the nitrogen (N) isotopes of organic matter and the N and oxygen (O) isotopes of nitrate (NO_3^−) have been used to investigate NO_3^− assimilation and N cycling in the summertime period of phytoplankton growth, both today and in the past. However, recent studies indicate the significance of processes in other seasons for producing the annual cycle of N isotope changes. This study explores the impact of fall conditions on the ^(15)N/^(14)N (δ^(15)N) and ^(18)O/^(16)O (δ^(18)O) of NO_3^− and nitrite (NO_2^−) in the Pacific Antarctic Zone using depth profiles from late summer/fall of 2014. In the mixed layer, the δ^(15)N and δ^(18)O of NO_3^− + NO_2^− increase roughly equally, as expected for NO_3^− assimilation; however, the δ^(15)N of NO_3^−-only (measured after NO_2− removal) increases more than does NO_3^− -only δ^(18)O. Differencing indicates that NO_2^− has an extremely low δ^(15)N, often < −70‰ versus air. These observations are consistent with the expression of an equilibrium N isotope effect between NO_3^− and NO_2^−, likely due to enzymatic NO_3^- - NO_2^− interconversion. Specifically, we propose reversibility of the nitrite oxidoreductase (NXR) enzyme of nitrite oxidizers that, having been entrained from the subsurface during late summer mixed layer deepening, are inhibited by light. Our interpretation suggests a role for NO_3^- - NO_2^− interconversion where nitrifiers are transported into environments that discourage NO_2^− oxidation. This may apply to surface regions with upwelling, such as the summertime Antarctic. It may also apply to oxygen-deficient zones, where NXR-catalyzed interconversion may explain previously reported evidence of NO_2^− oxidation

Publisher: 'American Geophysical Union (AGU)'
Year: 2016
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