EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Nutrient budgets in Southern Ocean mode waters controlled by nitrification

Pearse Buchanan1, Robyn Tuerena2, Alessandro Tagliabue1, Claire Mahaffey1, and Raja Ganeshram2
Pearse Buchanan et al.
  • 1Univeristy of Liverppol, Department of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences, Liverpool, UK
  • 2School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

Southern Ocean mode and intermediate waters supply nitrate-rich but silicate-poor waters to the lower latitudes, impeding diatom growth throughout the extra-polar ocean and weakening the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This silicate deficiency is widely attributed to high silicate to nitrate uptake by iron-limited diatoms. Here, we show that nitrification, by rapidly regenerating nitrate in shallow waters, drives the silicate deficiency. Measurements of nitrate dual isotopes and complementary modelling independently suggest that 15-35% of the nitrate within mode waters is generated by nitrification. Our results reveal that without nitrification, the silicate deficiency would disappear, which would allow the diatomaceous niche to expand. Nitrification therefore provides a key buffering service that mitigates against change in the silicate deficit and subsequently restricts diatom dominance to the polar ocean. This insight highlights the critical importance for understanding Southern Ocean processes, such that the large-scale effects of ongoing environmental change may be realised.

How to cite: Buchanan, P., Tuerena, R., Tagliabue, A., Mahaffey, C., and Ganeshram, R.: Nutrient budgets in Southern Ocean mode waters controlled by nitrification, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-19451,, 2020

This abstract will not be presented.