Visser, Lindsey A. (2009-08). Nitrous Oxide Production in the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxic Zone. Master's Thesis.
The Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone is created by strong persistent water stratification and nutrient loading from the Mississippi River which fuels primary production and bacterial decomposition. The Texas-Louisiana shelf becomes seasonally oxygen depleted and hypoxia (O2 less than or equal to 1.4 ml l-1) occurs. Low oxygen environments are conducive for the microbial production of nitrous oxide (N2O), a powerful greenhouse gas found in the atmosphere in trace amounts (319 ppbv). Highly productive coastal areas contribute 61% of the total oceanic N2O production and currently global sources exceed sinks. This study is the first characterization of N2O produced in the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone. Because of enhanced microbial activity and oxygen deficiency, it is hypothesized that the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone is a source of N2O to the atmosphere. Seasonal measurements of N2O were made during three research cruises in the Northern Gulf of Mexico (Sept. 2007, April 2008, and July 2008). Water column N2O profiles were constructed from stations sampled over time, and bottom and surface samples were collected from several sites in the hypoxic zone. These measurements were used to calculate atmospheric flux of N2O. The Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone was a source of N2O to the atmosphere, and N2O production was highest during times of seasonal hypoxia. N2O was positively correlated with temperature and salinity, and negatively correlated with oxygen concentration. Atmospheric fluxes ranged from -11.27 to 153.22 umol m-2 d-1. High accumulations of N2O in the water column (up to 2878 % saturated) were associated with remineralization of organic matter at the base of the pycnocline and oxycline. Seasonal hypoxia created a source of N2O to the atmosphere (up to 2.66 x 10-3 Tg N2O for the month of September 2007), but there was a slight sink during April 2008 when hypoxia did not occur. Large fluxes of N2O during the 3 to 5 month hypoxic period may not be counterbalanced by a 7 to 9 month sink period indicating the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone may be a net source of N2O to the atmosphere.