Global Biogeochemical Cycles

Nitrogen fixation by Trichodesmium spp.: An important source of new nitrogen to the tropical and subtropical North Atlantic Ocean

Authors

  • Douglas G. Capone,

    1. Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies and Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA
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  • James A. Burns,

    1. Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies and Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA
    2. Now at Quileute Natural Resources, LaPush, Washington, USA.
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  • Joseph P. Montoya,

    1. School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
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  • Ajit Subramaniam,

    1. Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of, Columbia University, Palisades, New York, USA
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  • Claire Mahaffey,

    1. Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies and Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA
    2. Now at Department of Oceanography, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.
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  • Troy Gunderson,

    1. Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies and Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA
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  • Anthony F. Michaels,

    1. Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies and Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA
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  • Edward J. Carpenter

    1. Romberg Tiburon Center, San Francisco State University, Tiburon, California, USA
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Abstract

[1] The broad distribution and often high densities of the cyanobacterium Trichodesmium spp. in oligotrophic waters imply a substantial role for this one taxon in the oceanic N cycle of the marine tropics and subtropics. New results from 154 stations on six research cruises in the North Atlantic Ocean show depth-integrated N2 fixation by Trichodesmium spp. at many stations that equalled or exceeded the estimated vertical flux of NO3 into the euphotic zone by diapycnal mixing. Areal rates are consistent with those derived from several indirect geochemical analyses. Direct measurements of N2 fixation rates by Trichodesmium are also congruent with upper water column N budgets derived from parallel determinations of stable isotope distributions, clearly showing that N2 fixation by Trichodesmium is a major source of new nitrogen in the tropical North Atlantic. We project a conservative estimate of the annual input of new N into the tropical North Atlantic of at least 1.6 × 1012 mol N by Trichodesmium N2 fixation alone. This input can account for a substantial fraction of the N2 fixation in the North Atlantic inferred by several of the geochemical approaches.

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