Upper Midwest lakes are supersaturated with N2

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26 Scopus citations


Little is known about the exchange of gaseous nitrogen (N2) with the atmosphere in freshwater systems. Although the exchange of N2, driven by excess or deficiencies relative to saturation values, has little relevance to the atmospheric N2 pool due to its large size, it does play an important role in freshwater and marine nitrogen (N) cycling. N-fixation converts N2 to ammonia, which can be used by microbes and phytoplankton, while denitrification/anammox effectively removes it by converting oxidized, inorganic N to N2. We examined N2 saturation to infer net biological nitrogen processes in 34 lakes across 5° latitude varying in trophic status, mixing regime, and bathymetry. Here, we report that nearly all lakes examined in the upper Midwest (USA) were supersaturated with N2 (>85% of samples, n = 248), suggesting lakes are continuously releasing nitrogen to the atmosphere. The traditional paradigm is that freshwaters compensate for N-limitation through N-fixation, but these results indicate that lakes were constantly losing N to the atmosphere via denitrification and/or anammox, suggesting that terrestrial N inputs are needed to balance the internal N cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17063-17067
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number29
StatePublished - Jul 21 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. We thank the following people for their advice on this project: Sara Winikoff and Jacques Finlay. This project was funded The Itasca Director’s Graduate Research Fellowship through the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota.


  • Biogeochemistry
  • Denitrification
  • Nitrogen cycling
  • Nitrogen fixation

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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