Silicon-nitrogen coupling in the equatorial Pacific upwelling zone


  • John P. Dunne,

  • James W. Murray,

  • Anthony K. Aufdenkampe,

  • Stephane Blain,

  • Martine Rodier


We describe the role of diatoms on nitrogen and silicon cycling in the equatorial Pacific upwelling zone (EUZ) using water column nutrient data from 19 equatorial cruises and particle concentration, new production, and sediment trap data from the U.S. Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS) equatorial Pacific (EqPac), France JGOFS fluxes in the Pacific (FLUPAC), and U.S. Zonal Flux cruises. Our results suggest that production and sinking of diatoms dominate particulate nitrogen export at silicate concentrations above 4 μM. Below this level, silicate is preferentially retained; while inorganic nitrogen is completely utilized, silicate remains at concentrations of 1–2 μM and is completely exhausted only under nonsteady state conditions. This lower nutrient condition accounts for a majority of particulate nitrogen export in the EUZ with minor loss of particulate silicon. Retention of silicon relative to nitrogen appears due to a combination of new production by nondiatoms, dissolution of silica frustules after grazing, iron limitation, and steady state upwelling. This synthesis supports the argument that diatom production was tightly coupled to new production during the U.S. JGOFS EqPac survey II cruise [Dugdale and Wilkerson, 1998]. However, this compilation suggests EqPac survey II cruise took place during a period of atypically high subsurface nutrients. We conclude that silicon and nitrogen are tightly coupled only at periods of very high nutrient concentration and nonsteady state. In addition, nutrient cycling in the EUZ is consistent at all times with a mechanism of combined iron and grazing control of phytoplankton size classes [Landry et al., 1997].