Origins of life and evolution of the biosphere

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 33–46

Sources and Sinks for Ammonia and Nitrite on the Early Earth and the Reaction of Nitrite with Ammonia

  • David P. Summers

DOI: 10.1023/A:1006517823004

Cite this article as:
Summers, D.P. Orig Life Evol Biosph (1999) 29: 33. doi:10.1023/A:1006517823004


An analysis of sources and sinks for ammonia and nitrite on the early Earth was conducted. Rates of formation and destruction, and steady state concentrations of both species were determined by steady state kinetics. The importance of the reaction of nitrite with ammonia on the feasibility of ammonia formation from nitrite was evaluated. The analysis considered conditions such as temperature, ferrous iron concentration, and pH. For sinks we considered the reduction of nitrite to ammonia, reaction between nitrite and ammonia, photochemical destruction of both species, and destruction at hydrothermal vents. Under most environmental conditions, the primary sink for nitrite is reduction to ammonia. The reaction between ammonia and nitrite is not an important sink for either nitrite or ammonia. Destruction at hydrothermal vents is important at acidic pH's and at low ferrous iron concentrations. Photochemical destruction, even in a worst case scenario, is unimportant under many conditions except possibly under acidic, low iron concentration, or low temperature conditions. The primary sink for ammonia is photochemical destruction in the atmosphere. Under acidic conditions, more of the ammonia is tied up as ammonium (reducing its vapor pressure and keeping it in solution) and hydrothermal destruction becomes more important.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • David P. Summers
    • 1
  1. 1.SETI InstituteNASA – Ames Research CenterMoffett Field