Oxygen exchange between nitrogen oxides and H2O can occur during nitrifier pathways

Kool, D.M.; Müller, C.; Wrage, N.; Oenema, O.; Groenigen, J.W. van


Interpretation of the oxygen isotopic signature of soil-derived N2O may be flawed when it is based on reaction stoichiometry and fractionation alone. In fact, oxygen (O) exchange between H2O and intermediates of N2O production pathways may largely determine this O isotopic signature. Although in our previous work we conclusively proved the occurrence of O exchange during N2O production by denitrification of NO3¿, its occurrence in N2O production pathways by nitrifiers remains unclear. The aim of this study was to examine the likeliness of O exchange during various stages of N2O production in soil via nitrification, nitrifier denitrification and denitrification. We evaluated a set of scenarios on the presence of such exchange using data from a series of 18O and 15N tracing experiments. The measured actual O incorporation from H2O into N2O (AOI) was compared with the theoretical maximum O incorporation (MOI) from various scenarios that differed in their assumptions on the presence of O exchange. We found that scenarios where O exchange was assumed to occur exclusively during denitrification could not explain the observed AOI, as it exceeded the MOI for 9 out of 10 soils. This demonstrates that additional O exchange must have occurred in N2O production through nitrifier pathways. It remains to be determined in which steps of these pathways O exchange can take place. We conclude that O exchange is likely to be mediated by ammonia oxidizers during NO2¿ reduction (nitrifier denitrification), and that it could possibly occur during NO2¿ oxidation to NO3¿ by nitrite oxidizers as well