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Western Arctic Ocean Could Be a Nitrous Oxide Hotspot Under a Warming Climate


A recent Nature Scientific Reports study, supported by CPO’s Climate Variability and Predictability (CVP) program, warns that if the Arctic continues to warm, the western Arctic Ocean could be a future hot spot and source of nitrous oxide. Like carbon dioxide or methane, nitrous oxide is directly linked to climate change, contributing to both the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion. 

In 2017, South Korea led a large Arctic Ocean research project which included fieldwork and data collection on the icebreaker R/V Araon that led to this study. Alison Macdonald, with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and funded by CVP, contributed to this study which focuses on the distribution of nitrous oxide in the western Arctic Ocean. 

This study is the first to present the spatial distribution of nitrous oxide concentrations and fluxes in the western Arctic Ocean, as well as identify the physical and/or biochemical factors controlling those distributions. The western Arctic Ocean includes the Chukchi Sea, East Siberian Sea, Beaufort Sea, the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and the Canada Basin. The authors found that the northern Chukchi Sea region acted as a nitrous oxide sink, while the southern Chukchi Sea region acted as a source. Increased flow of water from the Pacific Ocean to the western Arctic Ocean and decreasing sea ice, both consequences of a warming Arctic, would reduce the sink region and extend the source region, according to the study. The authors note that additional field studies are needed to confirm and help further explain this contrasting distribution.

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