Satellite captures trichodesmium blooms in the southwestern tropical Pacific


  • Cécile Dupouy,

    1. LODYC (Centre National Recherche Scientifique, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Université Pierre et Marie Curie), 4, Place Jussieu, Tour 14-15, Boite 100, 75252 Paris, France
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  • Jacques Neveux,

  • Ajit Subramaniam,

  • Margaret R. Mulholland,

  • Joseph P. Montoya,

  • Lisa Campbell,

  • Edward J. Carpenter,

  • Douglas G. Capone


Obtaining a true estimate of nitrogen fixation by cyanobacteria in the oceans, mainly Trichodesmium, is an important step toward understanding the entire nitrogen cycle in the tropical ocean. This strictly anaerobic process, which has a high Fe requirement, could regulate atmospheric CO2 over geological time. For example, during interglacial periods, N2 fixation would be too low (low Fe) to balance denitrification and the ocean would lose its fixed nitrogen [Falkowski, 1997]. Has the level of marine nitrogen fixation been underestimated until now? High N2 fixation rates measured on Trichodesmium spp. communities have led to an upward revision of this marine flux [Capone et al, 1997]. Recent modeling studies and observations predict that N2 fixation could regulate the long-term N:P equilibrium in the oceans and balance denitrification [Tyrell, 1999; J L. Sarmiento and N. Gruber, manuscript in preparation, 1999].The major nitrogen fixer, Trichodesmium spp., which are filamentous, nonheterocystous N2-fixing cyanobacteria, has a nearly ubiquitous distribution in the euphotic zone of tropical and subtropical seas and could play a major role in bringing new N to these oligotrophic systems. Satellite images from Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFs), the recently launched ocean color sensor, and data from a recent cruise, provide further evidence of the importance of Trichodesmium in the southwestern tropical Pacific Ocean.