The Chemical Evolution of Carbon, Nitrogen, and Oxygen in Metal-poor Dwarf Galaxies

Danielle A. Berg, Dawn K. Erb, Richard B.C. Henry, Evan D. Skillman, Kristen B.W. McQuinn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Ultraviolet nebular emission lines are important for understanding the time evolution and nucleosynthetic origins of their associated elements, but the underlying trends of their relative abundances are unclear. We present UV spectroscopy of 20 nearby low-metallicity, high-ionization dwarf galaxies obtained using the Hubble Space Telescope. Building upon previous studies, we analyze the C/O relationship for a combined sample of 40 galaxies with significant detections of the UV O +2 /C +2 collisionally excited lines and direct-method oxygen abundance measurements. Using new analytic carbon ionization correction factor relationships, we confirm the flat trend in C/O versus O/H observed for local metal-poor galaxies. We find an average log(C/O) ,F= ,F-0.71 with an intrinsic dispersion of σ ,F= ,F0.17 dex. The C/N ratio also appears to be constant at log(C/N) ,F= ,F0.75, plus significant scatter (σ = 0.20 dex), with the result that carbon and nitrogen show similar evolutionary trends. This large and real scatter in C/O over a large range in O/H implies that measuring the UV C and O emission lines alone does not provide a reliable indicator of the O/H abundance. By modeling the chemical evolution of C, N, and O of individual targets, we find that the C/O ratio is very sensitive to both the detailed star formation history and to supernova feedback. Longer burst durations and lower star formation efficiencies correspond to low C/O ratios, while the escape of oxygen atoms in supernovae winds produces decreased effective oxygen yields and larger C/O ratios. Further, a declining C/O relationship is seen with increasing baryonic mass due to increasing effective oxygen yields.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number93
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 20 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • ISM: abundances
  • galaxies: abundances
  • galaxies: evolution
  • ultraviolet: ISM
  • ultraviolet: galaxies


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