A preliminary methods comparison for measurement of dissolved organic nitrogen in seawater

Jonathan H. Sharp, Kathrine R. Rinker, Karen B. Savidge, Jeffrey Abell, Jean Yves Benaim, Deborah Bronk, David J. Burdige, Gustave Cauwet, Wenhao Chen, Marylo D. Doval, Dennis Hansell, Charles Hopkinson, Gerhard Kattner, Nancy Kaumeyer, Karen J. McGlathery, Jeffrey Merriam, Nick Morley, Klaus Nagel, Hiroshi Ogawa, Carol PollardMireille Pujo-Pay, Patrick Raimbault, Raymond Sambrotto, Sybil Seitzinger, Georgina Spyres, Frank Tirendi, Ted W. Walsh, C. S. Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Routine determination of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) is performed in numerous laboratories around the world using one of three families of methods: UV oxidation (UV), persulfate oxidation (PO), or high temperature combustion (HTC). Essentially all routine methods measure total dissolved nitrogen (TDN) and calculate DON by subtracting the dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN). While there is currently no strong suggestion that any of these methods is inadequate, there are continuing suspicions of slight inaccuracy by UV methods. This is a report of a broad community methods comparison where 29 sets (7 UV, 13 PO, and 9 HTC) of TDN analyses were performed on five samples with varying TDN and DIN concentrations. Analyses were done in a "blind" procedure with results sent to the first author. With editing out one set of extreme outliers (representing 5 out of 145 ampoules analyzed), the community comparability for analyzing the TDN samples was in the 8-28% range (coefficient of variation representing one standard deviation for the five individual samples by 28 analyses). When DIN concentrations were subtracted uniformly (single DIN value for each sample), the comparability was obviously worse (19-46% cv). This comparison represents a larger and more diverse set of analyses, but the overall comparability is only marginally better than that of the Seattle workshop of a decade ago. Grouping methods, little difference was seen other than inconclusive evidence that the UV methods gave TDN values for several of the samples higher than HTC methods. Since there was much scatter for each of the groups of methods and for all analyses when grouped, it is thought that more uniformity in procedures is probably needed. An important unplanned observation is that variability in DIN analyses (used in determining the final analyte in most UV and PO methods) is essentially as large as the variability in the TDN analyses. This exercise should not be viewed as a qualification exercise for the analysts, but should instead be considered a broad preliminary test of the comparison of the families of methods being used in various laboratories around the world. Based on many independent analyses here, none of the routinely used methods appears to be grossly inaccurate, thus, most routine TDN analyses being reported in the literature are apparently accurate. However, it is not reassuring that the ability of the international community to determine DON in deep oceanic waters continues to be poor. It is suggested that as an outgrowth of this paper, analysts using UV and PO methods experiment and look more carefully at the completeness of DIN conversion to the final analyte and also at the accuracy of their analysis of the final analyte. HTC methods appear to be relatively easy and convenient and have potential for routine adoption. Several of the authors of this paper are currently working together on an interlaboratory comparison on HTC methodology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-184
Number of pages14
JournalMarine Chemistry
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002


  • Dissolved organic nitrogen
  • High temperature combustion
  • Persulfate oxidation
  • UV oxidation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'A preliminary methods comparison for measurement of dissolved organic nitrogen in seawater'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this