On nitrogen fixation and preferential remineralization of phosphorus



[1] Regional and global nitrogen fixation rates are often estimated from geochemical tracers related to N* (= NO3 − 16PO43−). However the patterns of this tracer reflect the influence of numerous processes including nitrogen fixation, denitrification, remineralization of organic matter, variable stoichiometry, atmospheric deposition and physical transport. Here we have used idealized models to illustrate how preferential remineralization of organic phosphorous may explain observed features of N* distribution in the North Atlantic Ocean, including a subsurface maximum and an increased temporal variability in the mid-thermocline. If preferential remineralization of phosphorus is key in shaping the oceanic distribution of N*, published estimates of nitrogen fixation may be underestimating the marine nitrogen fixation rate by as much as a factor of three.