Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and archaea (AOA) play a vital role in bridging the input of fixed nitrogen, through N-fixation and remineralization, to its loss by denitrification and anammox. Yet the major environmental factors determining AOB and AOA population dynamics are little understood, despite both groups having a wide environmental distribution. This study examined the relative abundance of both groups of ammonia-oxidizing organisms (AOO) and the diversity of AOA across large-scale gradients in temperature, salinity and substrate concentration and dissolved oxygen. The relative abundance of AOB and AOA varied across environments, with AOB dominating in the freshwater region of the Chesapeake Bay and AOA more abundant in the water column of the coastal and open ocean. The highest abundance of the AOAamoAgene was recorded in the oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) of the Eastern Tropical South Pacific (ETSP) and the Arabian Sea (AS). The ratio of AOA: AOB varied from 0.7 in the Chesapeake Bay to 1600 in the Sargasso Sea. Relative abundance of both groups strongly correlated with ammonium concentrations. AOA diversity, as determined by phylogenetic analysis of clone library sequences and archetype analysis from a functional gene DNA microarray, detected broad phylogenetic differences across the study sites. However, phylogenetic diversity within physicochemically congruent stations was more similar than would be expected by chance. This suggests that the prevailing geochemistry, rather than localized dispersal, is the major driving factor determining OTU distribution.