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

Fischer, Hubertus; Schmitt, Jochen; Bock, Michael; Seth, Barbara; Joos, Fortunat; Spahni, Renato; Lienert, Sebastian; Battaglia, Gianna; Stocker, Benjamin D.; Schilt, Adrian; Brook, Edward J. (2019). 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. Biogeosciences, 16(20), pp. 3997-4021. European Geosciences Union 10.5194/bg-16-3997-2019

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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 d13C(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.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Climate and Environmental Physics
10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute

UniBE Contributor:

Fischer, Hubertus; Joos, Fortunat; Lienert, Sebastian and Battaglia, Gianna


500 Science > 530 Physics
500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology




European Geosciences Union


[UNSPECIFIED] Swiss National Science Foundation
[UNSPECIFIED] European Research Council


[UNSPECIFIED] bgcCEP (172476)
[UNSPECIFIED] ERC Advanced Grant MATRICs (226172)




Hubertus Fischer

Date Deposited:

22 Oct 2019 15:43

Last Modified:

24 Oct 2019 08:01

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

ice cores nitrous oxide biogeochemical cycles greenhouse gases





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