We present measurements of nitrate and its natural abundance oxygen isotope composition (18O/16O) in the water column of the broad and shallow eastern Bering Sea shelf in the late winter and early spring of 2007 and 2008. In both years, nitrate concentrations showed a characteristic decrease, from 25 µM at the slope to ≤5 µM inshore. The 18O/16O ratio of nitrate (δ18ONO3 versus SMOW) also decreased from 3.2‰ at the slope to 1.5‰ inshore in 2007 and to as low as −1‰ inshore in 2008, indicating that nitrate inshore was nitrified at least once since having been entrained as nitrate from the slope. The shoreward decrease was less pronounced in 2007 due to 18O enrichment of nitrate from incident phytoplankton assimilation in the ice-covered water column, whereas little to no algal growth in the water column was evident in 2008. By comparing the δ18O of nitrate to that of ambient water in spring 2008, we estimate the fraction of nitrate that was remineralized in situ rather than recently advected from the slope. These estimates indicate that 20%–100% of the nitrate in winter water of the middle and inner shelves derives from regeneration directly on the shelf rather than from the seasonal entrainment of slope waters, with recycling being the dominant mode of seasonal nitrate recharge from the 70 m isobath shoreward. These observations indicate substantial nutrient recycling on the shallow shelf, which has direct implications for the extent of fixed N loss to benthic denitrification and the fertility of the eastern shelf.
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