, Volume 93, Issue 1, pp 49-77

First online:

Challenges to incorporating spatially and temporally explicit phenomena (hotspots and hot moments) in denitrification models

  • Peter M. GroffmanAffiliated withCary Institute of Ecosystem Studies Email author 
  • , Klaus Butterbach-BahlAffiliated withInstitute for Meteorology and Climate Research, Atmospheric Environmental Research (IMK-IFU), Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe
  • , Robinson W. FulweilerAffiliated withDepartment of Earth Sciences, Boston University
  • , Arthur J. GoldAffiliated withDepartment of Natural Resources Science, University of Rhode Island
  • , Jennifer L. MorseAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Duke University
  • , Emilie K. StanderAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, Rutgers University
  • , Christina TagueAffiliated withDonald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California Santa Barbara
  • , Christina TonittoAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Department of Horticulture, Cornell University
  • , Philippe VidonAffiliated withDepartment of Earth Sciences, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)

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Denitrification, the anaerobic reduction of nitrogen oxides to nitrogenous gases, is an extremely challenging process to measure and model. Much of this challenge arises from the fact that small areas (hotspots) and brief periods (hot moments) frequently account for a high percentage of the denitrification activity that occurs in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. In this paper, we describe the prospects for incorporating hotspot and hot moment phenomena into denitrification models in terrestrial soils, the interface between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and in aquatic ecosystems. Our analysis suggests that while our data needs are strongest for hot moments, the greatest modeling challenges are for hotspots. Given the increasing availability of high temporal frequency climate data, models are promising tools for evaluating the importance of hot moments such as freeze-thaw cycles and drying/rewetting events. Spatial hotspots are less tractable due to our inability to get high resolution spatial approximations of denitrification drivers such as carbon substrate. Investigators need to consider the types of hotspots and hot moments that might be occurring at small, medium, and large spatial scales in the particular ecosystem type they are working in before starting a study or developing a new model. New experimental design and heterogeneity quantification tools can then be applied from the outset and will result in better quantification and more robust and widely applicable denitrification models.


Denitrification Nitrogen Riparian Sediment Soil Stream