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Keywords:

  • denitrification;
  • nitrate;
  • nitrogen fixation;
  • nitrogen isotope;
  • subantarctic;
  • tropical Pacific

[1] We report measurements of the nitrogen isotopic composition of nitrate (the δ15N of NO3) across the equatorial Pacific, for zonal transects from 165°E to 95°W and meridional transects across 95° and 110°W. The δ15N of NO3 is similar in the equatorial thermocline (≈100 m) and intermediate depth waters (≈150 to 600 m), averaging (7.1 ± 0.3)‰ and (7.1 ± 0.1)‰, respectively. These values are more than 2‰ higher than subthermocline waters of the Southern and Atlantic Oceans and are ≈1‰ higher than putative source waters in the high latitude South Pacific (Subantarctic Mode Water, SAMW). The combined constraints of nitrate concentration and δ15N of NO3in the equatorial Pacific require (1) lateral exchange between the high-latitude source waters and the zones of denitrification in the eastern tropical Pacific and (2) the accumulation of remineralized nutrients at depth. The zonal uniformity of the subsurface equatorial Pacificδ15N of NO3 indicates rapid transport within the equatorial zone, which works to homogenize the δ15N of NO3 across the Pacific basin. Against this backdrop of high δ15N of NO3in the tropical Pacific, we find a discrete off-equatorial core of lowerδ15N of NO3 (5.5 ± 0.3)‰ concentrated at 5°S and 150 to 200 m along the 110° and 95°W transects and in apparent association with the Southern Subsurface Counter Current (SSCC). We propose that the remineralized products of nitrogen fixation, at the source of the SSCC in the western south Pacific, are the origin of the low δ15N of NO3 in these waters.