Nav: Home

Rare traces of a volatile gas

January 24, 2018

Nitrogen oxides - i.e. nitrogen compounds with varying amounts of oxygen - have a very bad reputation. They are produced among other things by burning fossil fuels. In regions with heavy traffic and a lot of industry, they occur in high concentrations and are made responsible for a large number of diseases of the respiratory system. However, nitrogen oxides also occur in nature. There they play an important role in the nitrogen cycle, which ensures that nitrogen, essential for life, is available in forms that the organisms can process.

One of these nitrogen oxides is nitrogen monoxide (NO). Where it is produced in nature and in which quantities is hardly known. It is very volatile and reacts quickly with other substances. Therefore, NO is difficult to measure, especially in the world's largest ecosystem, the ocean. In the past few years, researchers at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel have developed a new measurement method and used them during an expedition of the Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 754"Climate-Biogeochemical Interactions in the Tropical Ocean" in the eastern tropical South Pacific Ocean. Now, they have published the first results in the international journal Deep-Sea Research Part II. "We have been able to demonstrate a clear link between low oxygen concentrations and the production of NO," says Hannah Lutterbeck, first author of the study.

The new NO-data set is the first since 30 years. "There have been some attempts to measure oceanic NO in the 1980s, but the procedure was extremely complex and resulted in comparatively few data points," explains co-author Prof. Dr. Hermann Bange from GEOMAR. Since then, research has hardly dealt with the topic of NO in seawater, until Hannah Lutterbeck has taken up the topic again for her PhD thesis.

The special trick of the new method: Water samples are pumped from the depth directly on board and analyzed immediately. "Only by means of quick processing directly on board the research vessel, we have obtained good results. If the water samples are stored for only a few minutes before analysis, the results can already be distorted," explains Hannah Lutterbeck, who now works at the State Office for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Areas of Schleswig-Holstein.

The expedition, in which the new method has proven itself, was conducted in February and March 2013 in a region off the coast of Peru, where very low oxygen concentrations already occur at 30-50 meters depth. The SFB 754 funded by the German Science Foundation and hosted by Kiel University and the GEOMAR investigates these oxygen minimum zones and their development. "It's not just a question of whether oxygen depletion in the ocean is increasing, but also how it affects other processes, such as nitrogen and nutrient supply in the ocean," explains Professor Bange.

The new method of measurement allows marine researchers to add another piece to the puzzle of the many chemical, physical and biological processes in the oxygen minimum zones. "The more details we know, the sooner we understand the phenomenon in its entirety," says Hermann Bange.

Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (GEOMAR)

Related Nitrogen Articles:

Fixing the role of nitrogen in coral bleaching
A unique investigation highlights how excess nitrogen can trigger coral bleaching in the absence of heat stress.
Universities release results on nitrogen footprints
Researchers have developed a large-scale method for calculating the nitrogen footprint of a university in the pursuit of reducing nitrogen pollution, which is linked to a cascade of negative impacts on the environment and human health, such as biodiversity loss, climate change, and smog.
A battery prototype powered by atmospheric nitrogen
As the most abundant gas in Earth's atmosphere, nitrogen has been an attractive option as a source of renewable energy.
Northern lakes respond differently to nitrogen deposition
Nitrogen deposition caused by human activities can lead to an increased phytoplankton production in boreal lakes.
Researchers discover greenhouse bypass for nitrogen
An international team discovers that production of a potent greenhouse gas can be bypassed as soil nitrogen breaks down into unreactive atmospheric N2.
Bacterial mechanism converts nitrogen to greenhouse gas
Cornell University researchers have discovered a biological mechanism that helps convert nitrogen-based fertilizer into nitrous oxide, an ozone-depleting greenhouse gas.
Going against the grain -- nitrogen turns out to be hypersociable!
Nitrogen is everywhere: even in the air there is four times as much of it as oxygen.
Soybean nitrogen breakthrough could help feed the world
Washington State University biologist Mechthild Tegeder has developed a way to dramatically increase the yield and quality of soybeans.
Trading farmland for nitrogen protection
Excess nitrogen from agricultural runoff can enter surface waters with devastating effects.
Measure of age in soil nitrogen could help precision agriculture
What's good for crops is not always good for the environment.

Related Nitrogen Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".