Physical supply of nitrogen to phytoplankton in the Atlantic Ocean

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Abstract

[1] Mechanisms supplying nitrogen (N) to phytoplankton, and thus constraining the levels of export production, over the oligotrophic subtropical Atlantic are assessed along a meridional transect. Stable nitrogen isotope signals reveal a localized region of N2 fixation over the northern subtropical gyre. Elsewhere, particulate organic nitrogen was isotopically enriched and there was no widespread evidence of a trophic bias. Thus phytoplankton are utilizing an enriched source of N along the transect through much of the oligotrophic Atlantic, which may reflect utilization of nitrate from the deep ocean or, possibly, a supply of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) from a non-N2 fixing source. While there is a significant supply of DON over the subtropical gyres, reaching 0.15 mol Nm−2 yr−1, less than 10% of the DON is semilabile and thus only implies a relatively small contribution to the nitrogen supply required for export production. Over the central part of the subtropical gyres, the supply of N to phytoplankton is probably from nitrate in the underlying thermocline, possibly from convection and diapycnic transfer, or more likely, from finescale upwelling by mesoscale eddies and frontal circulations. The lateral supply of dissolved organic phosphorus (DOP) appears to be a factor of 2–3 times more important than the lateral supply of semilabile DON, and thus might play a role in contributing to the phosphorus (P) supply for phytoplankton. The lateral supply of DON and DOP might also be important in closing the N and P budgets over the North Atlantic.

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