The 3He flux gauge in the Sargasso Sea: a determination of physical nutrient fluxes to the euphotic zone at the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Site
Abstract. Significant rates of primary production occur in the oligotrophic ocean, without any measurable nutrients present in the mixed layer, fueling a scientific paradox that has lasted for decades. Here, we provide a new determination of the annual mean physical supply of nitrate to the euphotic zone in the western subtropical North Atlantic. We combine a 3-year time series of measurements of tritiugenic 3He from 2003 to 2006 in the surface ocean at the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) site with a sophisticated noble gas calibrated air–sea gas exchange model to constrain the 3He flux across the sea–air interface, which must closely mirror the upward 3He flux into the euphotic zone. The product of the 3He flux and the observed subsurface nitrate–3He relationship provides an estimate of the minimum rate of new production in the BATS region. We also apply the gas model to an earlier time series of 3He measurements at BATS in order to recalculate new production fluxes for the 1985 to 1988 time period. The observations, despite an almost 3-fold difference in the nitrate–3He relationship, yield a roughly consistent estimate of nitrate flux. In particular, the nitrate flux from 2003 to 2006 is estimated to be 0.65 ± 0.14 mol m−2 yr−1, which is ~40 % smaller than the calculated flux for the period from 1985 to 1988. The difference in nitrate flux between the time periods may be signifying a real difference in new production resulting from changes in subtropical mode water formation. Overall, the nitrate flux is larger than most estimates of export fluxes or net community production fluxes made locally for the BATS site, which is likely a reflection of the larger spatial scale covered by the 3He technique and potentially also by the decoupling of 3He and nitrate during the obduction of water masses from the main thermocline into the upper ocean. The upward nitrate flux is certainly large enough to support observed rates of primary production at BATS and more generally in the oligotrophic subtropical ocean.