Nitrification contributes to winter oxygen depletion in seasonally frozen forested lakes

TitleNitrification contributes to winter oxygen depletion in seasonally frozen forested lakes
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsPowers, S. M., Baulch H. M., Hampton S. E., Labou S. G., Lottig N. R., and Stanley E. H.
Number of Pages119-129
Date PublishedNovember 01
Type of Articlejournal article
Reprint Number1573-515X

In lakes that experience seasonal ice cover, understanding of nitrogen–oxygen coupling and nitrification has been dominated by observations during open water, ice-free conditions. To address knowledge gaps about nitrogen–oxygen linkages under ice, we examined long-term winter data (30 + years, 2–3 sample events per winter) in 7 temperate lakes of forested northern Wisconsin, USA. Across lakes and depths, there were strong negative relationships between dissolved oxygen (DO) and the number of days since ice-on, reflecting consistent DO consumption rates under ice. In two bog lakes that routinely experience prolonged winter DO concentrations below 1.0 mg L−1, nitrate accumulated near the ice surface mainly in late winter, suggesting nitrification may depend on biogenic oxygen from photosynthesis. In contrast, within five oligotrophic-mesotrophic lakes, nitrate accumulated more consistently over winter and often throughout the water column, especially at intermediate depths. Exogenous inputs of nitrate to these lakes were minimal compared to rates of nitrate accumulation. To produce the nitrate via in-lake nitrification, substantial oxygen consumption by ammonium oxidizing microbes would be required. Among lakes and depths that had significant DO depletion over winter, the stoichiometric nitrifier oxygen demand ranged from 1 to 25% of the DO depletion rate. These estimates of nitrifier-driven DO decline are likely conservative because we did not account for nitrate consumed by algal uptake or denitrification. Our results provide an example of nitrification at temperatures < 5 degrees C having a substantial influence on ecosystem-level nitrogen and oxygen availability in seasonally-frozen, northern forested lakes. Consequently, models of under-ice dissolved oxygen dynamics may be advanced through consideration of nitrification, and more broadly, coupled nitrogen and oxygen cycling.