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Nitrous oxide and methane in the Atlantic Ocean between 50˚N and 52˚S: latitudinal distribution and sea-to-air flux

Lookup NU author(s): Grant Forster, Professor Robert Upstill-GoddardORCiD, Dr Guenther Uher


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We discuss nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) distributions in 49 vertical profiles covering the upper 300 m of the water column along two 13,500 km transects between 50°N and 52°S during the Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT) programme (AMT cruises 12 and 13). Vertical N2O profiles were amenable to analysis on the basis of common features coincident with Longhurst provinces. In contrast, CH4 showed no such pattern. The most striking feature of the latitudinal depth distributions was a well-defined “plume” of exceptionally high N2O concentrations coincident with very low levels of CH4, located between 23.5°N and 23.5°S; this feature reflects the upwelling of deep waters containing N2O derived from nitrification, as identified by an analysis of N2O, apparent oxygen utilization (AOU) and NO3, and presumably depleted in CH4 by bacterial oxidation. Sea-to-air emissions fluxes for a region equivalent to 42% of the Atlantic Ocean surface area were in the range 0.40–0.68 Tg N2O yr−1 and 0.81–1.43 Tg CH4 yr−1. Based on contemporary estimates of the global ocean source strengths of atmospheric N2O and CH4, the Atlantic Ocean could account for 6–15% and 4–13%, respectively, of these source totals. Given that the Atlantic Ocean accounts for around 20% of the global ocean surface, on unit area basis it appears that the Atlantic may be a slightly weaker source of atmospheric N2O than other ocean regions but it could make a somewhat larger contribution to marine-derived atmospheric CH4 than previously thought.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Forster GL, Upstill-Goddard RC, Gist N, Robinson R, Uher G, Woodward EMS

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Deep Sea Research II: Topical Studies in Oceanography

Year: 2009

Volume: 56

Issue: 15

Pages: 964-976

ISSN (print): 0967-0645

Publisher: Pergamon


DOI: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2008.12.002


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Funder referenceFunder name
British Antarctic Survey (BAS)
UK Oceanographic Research Services (UKORS)
Research Ships Unit (RSU)
NER/O/S/2001/00680UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)