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Keywords:

  • Bering Sea shelf;
  • denitrification;
  • nitrate;
  • nitrification;
  • sea ice;
  • stable isotopes

[1] We studied the nitrogen biogeochemistry of the ice-covered eastern Bering Sea shelf using the isotope ratios (15N/14N and 18O/16O) of NO3 and other N species. The 15N/14N of late winter NO3 on the shelf decreases inshore and is inversely correlated with bottom water [NH4+], consistent with an input of low-15N/14N NO3 from partial nitrification of NH4+ remineralized from the sediments. An inshore 15N/14N increase in total dissolved N (TDN) suggests that (1) the sediment-derived NH4+ is elevated in 15N due to the same partial nitrification that yields the low-15N/14N NO3, and (2) 15N-deplete NO3 from partial nitrification within the sediments is denitrified to N2. The proportion of newly nitrified NO3 on the shelf, evidenced by an inshore decrease in NO3− 18O/16O, is correlated with the N deficit, further implicating nitrification coupled to denitrification; however, a simple N isotope budget indicates a comparable rate of denitrification supported by diffusion of NO3 into the sediments. The isotopic impact of benthic N loss is further demonstrated by a correlation between the 15N/14N of shelf surface sediment and the N deficit of the overlying water column, both of which increase inshore and northward, as well as by Arctic NO3 isotope data indicating that the fixed N transported through Bering Strait has a 15N/14N higher than is found in the open Bering Sea. The significant net isotope effect of benthic N loss on the Bering shelf, 6–8 ‰, is at odds with previous assumptions regarding the global ocean's N isotope budget.