Articles | Volume 13, issue 19
Research article
10 Oct 2016
Research article |  | 10 Oct 2016

Oxygen utilization and downward carbon flux in an oxygen-depleted eddy in the eastern tropical North Atlantic

Björn Fiedler, Damian S. Grundle, Florian Schütte, Johannes Karstensen, Carolin R. Löscher, Helena Hauss, Hannes Wagner, Alexandra Loginova, Rainer Kiko, Péricles Silva, Toste Tanhua, and Arne Körtzinger

Abstract. The occurrence of mesoscale eddies that develop suboxic environments at shallow depth (about 40–100 m) has recently been reported for the eastern tropical North Atlantic (ETNA). Their hydrographic structure suggests that the water mass inside the eddy is well isolated from ambient waters supporting the development of severe near-surface oxygen deficits. So far, hydrographic and biogeochemical characterization of these eddies was limited to a few autonomous surveys, with the use of moorings, underwater gliders and profiling floats. In this study we present results from the first dedicated biogeochemical survey of one of these eddies conducted in March 2014 near the Cape Verde Ocean Observatory (CVOO). During the survey the eddy core showed oxygen concentrations as low as 5 µmol kg−1 with a pH of around 7.6 at approximately 100 m depth. Correspondingly, the aragonite saturation level dropped to 1 at the same depth, thereby creating unfavorable conditions for calcifying organisms. To our knowledge, such enhanced acidity within near-surface waters has never been reported before for the open Atlantic Ocean. Vertical distributions of particulate organic matter and dissolved organic matter (POM and DOM), generally showed elevated concentrations in the surface mixed layer (0–70 m), with DOM also accumulating beneath the oxygen minimum. With the use of reference data from the upwelling region where these eddies are formed, the oxygen utilization rate was calculated by determining oxygen consumption through the remineralization of organic matter. Inside the core, we found these rates were almost 1 order of magnitude higher (apparent oxygen utilization rate (aOUR); 0.26 µmol kg−1 day−1) than typical values for the open North Atlantic. Computed downward fluxes for particulate organic carbon (POC), were around 0.19 to 0.23 g C m−2 day−1 at 100 m depth, clearly exceeding fluxes typical for an oligotrophic open-ocean setting. The observations support the view that the oxygen-depleted eddies can be viewed as isolated, westwards propagating upwelling systems of their own, thereby represent re-occurring alien biogeochemical environments in the ETNA.

Short summary
Oxygen-depleted mesoscale features in the open eastern tropical North Atlantic, which are formed in the Mauritanian upwelling region, were discovered recently. This study examines biogeochemical structure and magnitudes of related processes within these isolated water masses. We found very low oxygen concentrations and strongly enhanced acidity at near-surface depth. Oxygen utilization and downward carbon export were found to exceed known values for this ocean region.
Final-revised paper