20 Jun 2024
 | 20 Jun 2024
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Nitrous oxide (N2O) in Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania

Johnathan D. Maxey, Neil D. Hartstein, Hermann W. Bange, and Mortiz Müller

Abstract. Fjord-like estuaries are hotspots of biogeochemical cycling due to steep physicochemical gradients. The spatiotemporal distribution of nitrous oxide (N2O) within many of these systems is poorly described, especially in the southern hemisphere. The goal of this study is to describe the spatiotemporal distribution of N2O within a southern hemisphere fjord-like estuary, describe the main environmental drivers of this distribution, the air/sea flux of N2O, and the main drivers of N2O production. Cruises were undertaken in Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania to capture N2O concentrations and water column physicochemical profiles in winter (July 2022), spring (October 2022), summer (February 2023), and autumn (April 2023). N2O samples were collected at one depth at system end members, and at 5 depths at 4 stations within the harbour.

Results indicate that N2O is consistently supersaturated (reaching 170 % saturation) below the system’s freshwater lens where oxygen concentrations are often hypoxic, but infrequently anoxic. In the surface lens, levels of N2O saturation vary with estimated river flow and with proximity to the system’s main freshwater endmember. The linear relationship between AOU and ΔN2O saturation indicates that nitrification is the process generating N2O in the system. When river flow was high (July and October 2022), surface water N2O was undersaturated (as low as 70 %) throughout most of the harbour.

When river flow was low (February and April 2023) N2O was observed to be supersaturated at most stations. Calculated air/sea fluxes of N2O indicated that the system is generally a source of N2O to the atmosphere under weak river flow conditions and a sink during strong river flow conditions. The diapycnal flux was a minor contributor to surface water N2O concentrations, and subhalocline N2O is intercepted by the riverine surface lens and transported out of the system to the ocean during strong river flow conditions. In a changing climate, Western Tasmania is expected to receive higher winter rainfall and lower summer rainfall which may augment the source and sink dynamics of this system by enhancing the summer / autumn efflux of N2O to the atmosphere.

This study is the first to report observations of N2O distribution, generation processes, and estimated diapycnal / surface N2O fluxes from this system.

Publisher's note: Copernicus Publications remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims made in the text, published maps, institutional affiliations, or any other geographical representation in this preprint. The responsibility to include appropriate place names lies with the authors.
Johnathan D. Maxey, Neil D. Hartstein, Hermann W. Bange, and Mortiz Müller

Status: open (until 14 Aug 2024)

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  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2024-1731', Anonymous Referee #1, 09 Jul 2024 reply
Johnathan D. Maxey, Neil D. Hartstein, Hermann W. Bange, and Mortiz Müller
Johnathan D. Maxey, Neil D. Hartstein, Hermann W. Bange, and Mortiz Müller


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Short summary
The distribution of N2O in fjord-like estuaries is poorly described in the southern hemisphere. Our study describes N2O distribution and its drivers in one such system Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania. Water samples were collected seasonally from 2022/2023. Results show the system is a sink for atmospheric N2O when river flow is high; and the system emits N2O when the river flow is low. N2O generated in basins is intercepted by the surface water and exported to the ocean during high river flow.