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Denitrification, Its Importance Once Diluted, May Be Back On Top

After more than a decade of inquiry, a Princeton-led team of scientists has turned the tables on a long-standing controversy to re-establish an old truth about nitrogen mixing in the oceans.

For decades, scientists thought they had a handle on the workings of an intricate natural mechanism known as the nitrogen cycle, essential to maintaining life on Earth. This process, one of nature's most elegant sleights-of-hand, shuttles nitrogen from the soils to the oceans to the atmosphere and back.

A key part of that cycle, researchers once thought, was a process known as denitrification. In low-oxygen -- or anaerobic -- conditions seen in large stretches of ocean sediments and in a few important regions of the open ocean, bacteria act as "denitrifyers," performing the crucial task of gobbling up nitrates and converting them to nitrogen gases, which complete the cycle by flowing back to the atmosphere.

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