Nitrate uptake at photic zone depths is not important for export in the subtropical ocean

Stuart C. Painter*, Richard Sanders, Alex J. Poulton, E Malcolm S Woodward, Mike Lucas, Katie Chamberlain

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Observations of nitrate (NO3-) uptake across the photic zone of the tropical and subtropical Atlantic Ocean are described. High NO3- uptake rates were commonly found at depth (>75 m), coincident with the deep chlorophyll maximum and the nitracline, whereas highest rates of carbon fixation were found in near-surface waters (0-50 m). Thus NO3- based estimates of in situ new production (NO3- uptake × 6.6) at depth are in excess of in situ measurements of carbon fixation implying NO3- uptake exceeds production requirements. Such surplus NO3- uptake may ultimately result in the production of dissolved organic nitrogen with its measurement within the particulate phase representing a transient enrichment. When only upper euphotic zone (to 14% irradiance depth) rates of NO3- uptake and carbon fixation are considered, new production is less than total carbon fixation, suggesting, as expected, that additional nitrogen sources are required to support the observed production levels. Comparison of the deep NO3- uptake rates with literature estimates of seasonal NO3- drawdown within the nitracline suggests that the drawdown observed represents only 1% of the actual NO3- uptake occurring in this region of the water column, and hence most NO3- uptake must be recycled locally rather than exported.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberGB4005
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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