Articles | Volume 14, issue 18
Research article
19 Sep 2017
Research article |  | 19 Sep 2017

Does denitrification occur within porous carbonate sand grains?

Perran Louis Miall Cook, Adam John Kessler, and Bradley David Eyre

Abstract. Permeable carbonate sands form a major habitat type on coral reefs and play a major role in organic matter recycling. Nitrogen cycling within these sediments is likely to play a major role in coral reef productivity, yet it remains poorly studied. Here, we used flow-through reactors and stirred reactors to quantify potential rates of denitrification and the dependence of denitrification on oxygen concentrations in permeable carbonate sands at three sites on Heron Island, Australia. Our results showed that potential rates of denitrification fell within the range of 2–28 µmol L−1 sediment h−1 and were very low compared to oxygen consumption rates, consistent with previous studies of silicate sands. Denitrification was observed to commence at porewater oxygen concentrations as high as 50 µM in stirred reactor experiments on the coarse sediment fraction (2–10 mm) and at oxygen concentrations of 10–20 µM in flow-through and stirred reactor experiments at a site with a median sediment grain size of 0.9 mm. No denitrification was detected in sediments under oxic conditions from another site with finer sediment (median grain size: 0.7 mm). We interpret these results as confirmation that denitrification may occur within anoxic microniches present within porous carbonate sand grains. The occurrence of such microniches has the potential to enhance denitrification rates within carbonate sediments; however further work is required to elucidate the extent and ecological significance of this effect.

Short summary
Nitrogen is the key nutrient that typically limits productivity in coastal waters. One of the key controls on the amount of bioavailable nitrogen is the process of denitrification, which converts nitrate (bioavailable) into nitrogen gas. Previous studies suggest high rates of denitrification may take place within carbonate sediments, and one explanation for this is that this process may take place within the sand grains. Here we show evidence to support this hypothesis.
Final-revised paper