Deep ocean biogeochemistry of silicic acid and nitrate

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Abstract

[1] Observations of silicic acid and nitrate along the lower branch of the global conveyor belt circulation show that silicic acid accumulation by diatom opal dissolution occurs at 6.4 times the rate of nitrate addition by organic matter remineralization. The export of opal and organic matter from the surface ocean occurs at a Si:N mole ratio that is much smaller than this almost everywhere (cf. Sarmiento et al., 2004). The preferential increase of silicic acid over nitrate as the deep circulation progresses from the North Atlantic to the North Pacific is generally interpreted as requiring deep dissolution of opal together with shallow remineralization of organic matter (Broecker, 1991). However, Sarmiento et al. (2004) showed that the primary reason for the low silicic acid concentration of the upper ocean is that the waters feeding the main thermocline from the surface Southern Ocean are depleted in silicic acid relative to nitrate. By implication, the same Southern Ocean processes that deplete the silicic acid in the surface Southern Ocean must also be responsible for the enhanced silicic acid concentration of the deep ocean. We use observations and results from an updated version of the adjoint model of Schlitzer (2000) to confirm that this indeed the case.

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