Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans

The δ15N of nitrate in the Southern Ocean: Nitrogen cycling and circulation in the ocean interior

Authors

  • D. M. Sigman,

  • M. A. Altabet,

  • D. C. McCorkle,

  • R. Francois,

  • G. Fischer


Abstract

We report analyses of the nitrogen isotopic composition of nitrate in the eastern Indian and Pacific sectors of the Southern Ocean. In this paper, we focus on the subsurface data as well as data from the deep waters of other ocean basins. Nitrate δ15N is relatively invariant in much of the abyssal ocean (i.e., below 2.5 km), with a value of 4.8±0.2‰ observed in Lower Circumpolar Deep Water, North Atlantic Deep Water, and central Pacific deep water. The isotopic invariance of deep ocean nitrate stems fundamentally from the completeness of nitrate utilization in most of the global surface ocean, the Southern Ocean surface being an important exception. In the Subantarctic Zone (north of the Polar Frontal Zone) the nitrate δ15N of Upper Circumpolar Deep Water is ∼0.7‰ greater than that of Lower Circumpolar Deep Water. This isotopic enrichment appears to result from denitrification in the low-latitude water masses with which Upper Circumpolar Deep Water communicates. The isotopic enrichment of Upper Circumpolar Deep Water is diminished in the Antarctic, probably because of the remineralization of sinking organic N, which has a low δ15N in the Antarctic. Relative to the other water masses of the Southern Ocean, the Subantarctic thermocline has a very low nitrate δ15N for its nitrate concentration because of exchange with the low-latitude thermocline, where this isotopic signature appears to originate. This signature of the low-latitude thermocline has two probable causes: (1) mixing with low-nitrate surface water and (2) the oxidation of newly fixed N.

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