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N2O changes from the Last Glacial Maximum to the preindustrial – Part 1: Quantitative reconstruction of terrestrial and marine emissions using N2O stable isotopes in ice cores

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Fischer Hubertus, Schmitt Jochen, Bock Michael, Seth Barbara, Joos Fortunat, Spahni Renato, Lienert Sebastian, Battaglia Gianna, Stocker Benjamin D., Schilt Adrian, Brook Edward J.,
Project iCEP - Climate and Environmental Physics: Innovation in ice core science
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Biogeosciences
Volume (Issue) 16(20)
Page(s) 3997 - 4021
Title of proceedings Biogeosciences
DOI 10.5194/bg-16-3997-2019

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Abstract. Using high-precision and centennial-resolution ice core information on atmospheric nitrous oxide concentrations and its stable nitrogen and oxygen isotopic composition, we quantitatively reconstruct changes in the terrestrial and marine N2O emissions over the last 21 000 years. Our reconstruction indicates that N2O emissions from land and ocean increased over the deglaciation largely in parallel by 1.7±0.3 and 0.7±0.3 TgN yr−1, respectively, relative to the Last Glacial Maximum level. However, during the abrupt Northern Hemisphere warmings at the onset of the Bølling–Allerød warming and the end of the Younger Dryas, terrestrial emissions respond more rapidly to the northward shift in the Intertropical Convergence Zone connected to the resumption of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. About 90 % of these large step increases were realized within 2 centuries at maximum. In contrast, marine emissions start to slowly increase already many centuries before the rapid warmings, possibly connected to a re-equilibration of subsurface oxygen in response to previous changes. Marine emissions decreased, concomitantly with changes in atmospheric CO2 and δ13C(CO2), at the onset of the termination and remained minimal during the early phase of Heinrich Stadial 1. During the early Holocene a slow decline in marine N2O emission of 0.4 TgN yr−1 is reconstructed, which suggests an improvement of subsurface water ventilation in line with slowly increasing Atlantic overturning circulation. In the second half of the Holocene total emissions remain on a relatively constant level, but with significant millennial variability. The latter is still difficult to attribute to marine or terrestrial sources. Our N2O emission records provide important quantitative benchmarks for ocean and terrestrial nitrogen cycle models to study the influence of climate on nitrogen turnover on timescales from several decades to glacial–interglacial changes.