The Isotopomers of Nitrous Oxide: Analytical Considerations and Application to Resolution of Microbial Production Pathways

  • Nathaniel E. OstromEmail author
  • Peggy H. Ostrom
Part of the Advances in Isotope Geochemistry book series (ADISOTOPE)


Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important greenhouse gas and the most important substance involved in ozone depletion. The N2O molecule consists of two N atoms that differ in the nature of their covalent bonds and consequently tend to acquire distinct isotopic compositions. Thus, N2O contains both bulk (δ15N and δ18O) and site specific isotopic information. Site preference (SP) is defined as the difference in δ15N between the central (α) and outer (β) N atoms in N2O. SP has emerged as a potential conservative tracer of microbial N2O production because (1) it is independent of the isotopologue composition of the substrates of nitrification and denitrification and (2) does not exhibit fractionation during production. In pure microbial culture distinct SP values for N2O production from bacterial denitrification, including nitrifier denitrification (−10 to 0 ‰), relative to hydroxylamine oxidation and fungal denitrification (33–37 ‰) provides a basis to resolve production pathways in the natural environment. Future directions for isotopomer research include (1) improvements in calibration and mass overlap corrections, (2) evaluation of SP signals of microbial production pathways not yet studied including heterotrophic nitrification, codenitrification, and dissimilatory reduction of nitrate to ammonium, and (3) evaluation of the potential for biological production to produce a 17O anomaly in atmospheric N2O.


Site Preference Fractionation Factor Nitric Oxide Reductase Isotopic Enrichment Factor Hydroxylamine Oxidation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This manuscript has benefited greatly from conversations over the past decade with a number of researchers and students including Tim Bergsma, Sourendra Bhattacharya, Hasand Gandhi, Eric Hegg, Matthew Opdyke, Malee Jinuntuya-Nortman, Jay Lennon, Adam Pitt, G. Phil Robertson, Robin Sutka, and Joe von Fisher. We greatly appreciate the assistance of Sakae Toyoda, Naohiro Yoshida, David Griffith and Stephen Parkes in the calibration of our internal laboratory standard. We thank two reviewers of this manuscript for their insightful comments. We thank Phil Robertson, Neville Millar, and James Humpula for assistance in the collection and/or analysis of data presented in Figs. 23.4 and 23.5.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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