Articles | Volume 7, issue 2
26 Feb 2010
 | 26 Feb 2010

Atmospheric deposition of nutrients and excess N formation in the North Atlantic

L. M. Zamora, A. Landolfi, A. Oschlies, D. A. Hansell, H. Dietze, and F. Dentener

Abstract. Anthropogenic emissions of nitrogen (N) to the atmosphere have been strongly increasing during the last century, leading to greater atmospheric N deposition to the oceans. The North Atlantic subtropical gyre (NASTG) is particularly impacted. Here, upwind sources of anthropogenic N from North American and European sources have raised atmospheric N deposition to rates comparable with N2 fixation in the gyre. However, the biogeochemical fate of the deposited N is unclear because there is no detectable accumulation in the surface waters. Most likely, deposited N accumulates in the main thermocline instead, where there is a globally unique pool of N in excess of the canonical Redfield ratio of 16N:1 phosphorus (P). To investigate this depth zone as a sink for atmospheric N, we used a biogeochemical ocean transport model and year 2000 nutrient deposition data. We examined the maximum effects of three mechanisms that may transport excess N from the ocean surface to the main thermocline: physical transport, preferential P remineralization of sinking particles, and nutrient uptake and export by phytoplankton at higher than Redfield N:P ratios. Our results indicate that atmospheric deposition may contribute 13–19% of the annual excess N input to the main thermocline. Modeled nutrient distributions in the NASTG were comparable to observations only when non-Redfield dynamics were invoked. Preferential P remineralization could not produce realistic results on its own; if it is an important contributor to ocean biogeochemistry, it must co-occur with N2 fixation. The results suggest that: 1) the main thermocline is an important sink for anthropogenic N deposition, 2) non-Redfield surface dynamics determine the biogeochemical fate of atmospherically deposited nutrients, and 3) atmospheric N accumulation in the main thermocline has long term impacts on surface ocean biology.

Final-revised paper