EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Comparison of two isotope-based methods to quantify nitrification rates in estuaries

Vanessa Russnak1, Sophie Kache2, Maren Voss2, and Kirstin Dähnke1
Vanessa Russnak et al.
  • 1Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon, Institute for Carbon Cycles, Germany (
  • 2Leibnitz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde, Germany

Estuaries are important biogeochemical reactors that can remove dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN, mostly nitrate) from the water column, but can also generate nitrate via remineralization and subsequent nitrification of organic matter in the water column. To assess this regeneration of nitrate, an important nutrient source for phytoplankton that contributes to eutrophication, various isotope-based laboratory methods are in use.

In this study, we compare two commonly used stable-isotope-based techniques to measure nitrification in estuarine water, the isotope dilution method and the addition of 15N-ammonium. Both measure the isotope enrichment in nitrate but have drastically different incubation times. We apply both methods in the estuary of the Elbe River and evaluate the drawbacks and advantages of each method to develop application recommendations.

Our results indicate that nitrification measurements using isotope dilution are less variable between stations, but suggest that rates are overestimated at high phytoplankton activity. On the counter side, the addition of 15N-ammonium as a tracer apparently overestimates nitrification in heterotrophic settings, probably because substrate addition stimulates nitrification. The adequate measurement technique must this be carefully chosen depending on the selected study site.

Funding information  - This study has been carried out and was financially supported by the BMBF “Blue-Estuaries” project (grant no. 03F0864C)

How to cite: Russnak, V., Kache, S., Voss, M., and Dähnke, K.: Comparison of two isotope-based methods to quantify nitrification rates in estuaries, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-16361,, 2023.