Articles | Volume 13, issue 10
Research article
18 May 2016
Research article |  | 18 May 2016

N2 fixation in eddies of the eastern tropical South Pacific Ocean

Carolin R. Löscher, Annie Bourbonnais, Julien Dekaezemacker, Chawalit N. Charoenpong, Mark A. Altabet, Hermann W. Bange, Rena Czeschel, Chris Hoffmann, and Ruth Schmitz

Abstract. Mesoscale eddies play a major role in controlling ocean biogeochemistry. By impacting nutrient availability and water column ventilation, they are of critical importance for oceanic primary production. In the eastern tropical South Pacific Ocean off Peru, where a large and persistent oxygen-deficient zone is present, mesoscale processes have been reported to occur frequently. However, investigations into their biological activity are mostly based on model simulations, and direct measurements of carbon and dinitrogen (N2) fixation are scarce.

We examined an open-ocean cyclonic eddy and two anticyclonic mode water eddies: a coastal one and an open-ocean one in the waters off Peru along a section at 16° S in austral summer 2012. Molecular data and bioassay incubations point towards a difference between the active diazotrophic communities present in the cyclonic eddy and the anticyclonic mode water eddies.

In the cyclonic eddy, highest rates of N2 fixation were measured in surface waters but no N2 fixation signal was detected at intermediate water depths. In contrast, both anticyclonic mode water eddies showed pronounced maxima in N2 fixation below the euphotic zone as evidenced by rate measurements and geochemical data. N2 fixation and carbon (C) fixation were higher in the young coastal mode water eddy compared to the older offshore mode water eddy. A co-occurrence between N2 fixation and biogenic N2, an indicator for N loss, indicated a link between N loss and N2 fixation in the mode water eddies, which was not observed for the cyclonic eddy. The comparison of two consecutive surveys of the coastal mode water eddy in November 2012 and December 2012 also revealed a reduction in N2 and C fixation at intermediate depths along with a reduction in chlorophyll by half, mirroring an aging effect in this eddy. Our data indicate an important role for anticyclonic mode water eddies in stimulating N2 fixation and thus supplying N offshore.

Short summary
The ocean is full of eddies and they play a key role for ocean biogeochemistry. In order to understand dinitrogen (N2) fixation, one major control of oceanic primary production, we investigated three eddies in the eastern tropical South Pacific off Peru. We conducted the first detailed survey and found increased N2 fixation in the oxygen-depleted cores of anticyclonic mode water eddies. Taken together, we could – for the first time – show that eddies play an important role in N2 fixation off Peru.
Final-revised paper