EGU22-11261, updated on 28 Mar 2022
EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Investigation of the potential use of the supersaturation ratio of N2 (ΔN2) for the estimation of the seasonal and spatial variability of denitrification and anammox in the water column of the Baltic Proper

Marta Borecka, Aleksandra Winogradow, Katarzyna Koziorowska-Makuch, Przemysław Makuch, Magdalena Diak, Karol Kuliński, Janusz Pempkowiak, and Beata Szymczycha
Marta Borecka et al.
  • Institute of Oceanology Polish Academy of Sciences, Sopot, Poland (

Denitrification and anammox are the main nitrogen (N) removal pathways in seawaters. Both processes are important in regions, such as the Baltic Sea, which receive high nutrient loads, that enhance primary production and eutrophication. The Baltic Sea is also characterized by a strong vertical salinity gradient and the presence of a permanent halocline hampering mixing in the water column and ventilation of the deep water layers. Rare events of deep water renewal, together with high oxygen consumption, lead to suboxic and anoxic conditions in the Baltic Sea, which are favorable for denitrification and anammox – processes for which the end product is a non-reactive N2. In seawater, the concentration of dissolved gases is controlled by biological and physical processes. The latter can be traced by measuring inert gases such as argon (Ar). Hence, the N2/Ar ratio can be used to separate physical and biological effects influencing N2 fields. This approach may suit especially to the stratified water bodies, where deep waters are separated from the surface water layer influenced by the gas exchange with the atmosphere.

The study aimed at investigating the potential use of the supersaturation ratio – ΔN2 as a tracer of denitrification and anammox processes in the water column of the Baltic Proper. The ΔN2 ratio was derived as an anomaly from the N2/Ar ratio in seawater being at equilibrium with the atmosphere. The used technique was Membrane Inlet Mass Spectrometry, which allows performing high-precision measurements of dissolved N2 and Ar in water (masses 28 and 40 were detected, respectively). Seawater samples were collected between 2017 and 2021 from nineteen stations, including Gdańsk, Gotland, and Bornholm Deeps.

The ΔN2 indicated N2 accumulation in the oxygen minimum zones below the halocline with the highest values found​​ in the bottom layers. This can be explained by both denitrification and possibly anammox in the water column and with N2 release from sediments. ΔN2 values ranged from 1.0 to 32.6 µmol L-1. In autumn 2021 a significant difference in ΔN2 (p = 0.0008) between the studied sites was observed. For example on station located in Gotland Deep ΔN2 values were in the range from 17.6 to 32.6 µmol L-1, while on station located in the Central Baltic Proper the maximum was 6.1 µmol L-1. The seasonal ΔN2 changes (autumn, spring, and winter) were investigated for two stations located in the Gdańsk Deep and indicated statistically significant variability (p=0.0077) with the highest ΔN2 observed in winter. Additionally, ΔN2 was negatively correlated with nitrate (R2=0.5469) and oxygen (R2=0.6382), positively with phosphate (R2=0.4382) and ammonium (R2=0.2898), while no clear dependency was observed for nitrite (R2=0.0388).

The presented study was the first attempt performed on such a large scale in the Baltic Proper. It demonstrates a high potential in the use of supersaturation ratio for identification of the active sites for denitrification and anammox processes.


The results were obtained within the framework of the statutory activities of the Institute of Oceanology Polish Academy of Sciences and the research project: 2019/34/E/ST10/00217 funded by the Polish National Science Centre.

How to cite: Borecka, M., Winogradow, A., Koziorowska-Makuch, K., Makuch, P., Diak, M., Kuliński, K., Pempkowiak, J., and Szymczycha, B.: Investigation of the potential use of the supersaturation ratio of N2 (ΔN2) for the estimation of the seasonal and spatial variability of denitrification and anammox in the water column of the Baltic Proper, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-11261,, 2022.