Insights into marine nitrogen cycling in coastal sediments: inputs, losses, and measurement techniques
Hall, Cynthia Adia
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Marine nitrogen (N) is an essential nutrient for all oceanic organisms. The cycling of N between biologically available and unavailable forms occurs through numerous reactions. Because of the vast number of reactions and chemical species involved, the N cycle is still not well understood. This dissertation focuses on understanding some of the reactions involved in the cycling of marine N, as well as improving techniques used to measure dissolved N2 gas. The largest loss term for global marine N is a reaction called denitrification. In this work, denitrification was measured in the sandy sediments of the Georgia continental shelf, an area where this reaction was thought to be unlikely because of the physical properties of the sediments. Nitrogen fixation, which is a reaction that produces biologically available N, was detected in Georgia estuarine sediments. N fixation was measured concurrently with denitrification in these sediments, resulting in a much smaller net loss of marine N than previously thought. Lastly, membrane inlet mass spectrometry (MIMS) is a technique that measures dissolved N2, the end product of denitrification and a reactant in N fixation reactions. This study suggests that N2 measurements by MIMS are influenced by O2 concentrations due to pressure differences inside of the ion source of the mass spectrometer. These findings seek to improve denitrification measurements using MIMS on samples with varying O2 concentrations. In conclusion, this dissertation suggests that the marine N cycle is more dynamic than has been suggested, due to the recognition of input and loss reactions in a wider range of marine and estuarine environments. However, improvements in the understanding of MIMS will help with direct measurements with reactions involved in the global marine N cycle.