Journal cover Journal topic
Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Journal topic
Volume 9, issue 7
Biogeosciences, 9, 2673–2682, 2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Biogeosciences, 9, 2673–2682, 2012
© Author(s) 2012. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 24 Jul 2012

Research article | 24 Jul 2012

Role of sediment denitrification in water column oxygen dynamics: comparison of the North American East and West Coasts

L. Bianucci1, K. Fennel1, and K. L. Denman2 L. Bianucci et al.
  • 1Department of Oceanography, Dalhousie University, Canada
  • 2VENUS Project, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, and Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, University of Victoria, Canada

Abstract. Low oxygen concentrations, either natural or anthropogenically driven, can severely affect coastal marine ecosystems. A deeper understanding of oxygen dynamics is required in order to improve numerical models, eventually to predict the timing and severity of hypoxia. In this study we investigate the effect of sediment denitrification on oxygen concentrations in bottom waters over the continental shelf. We used two coupled physical-biological models based on the Regional Ocean Modelling System (ROMS) to compare summer simulations with and without denitrification within the sediments for two North American shelves: the Middle Atlantic Bight (MAB) and the Vancouver Island Shelf (VIS). These regions belong to western and eastern boundary current systems, respectively, and are characterized by different physical and biological dynamics. Both models assume coupled nitrification-denitrification within the sediments. Denitrification represents a loss of bioavailable nitrogen through the production of dinitrogen gas, with the potential to affect biogeochemical cycles. In our MAB model, this loss of regenerated nutrients through denitrification within the sediments significantly affects primary production, since recycled nitrogen supports most of the primary production in that region. The diminished primary production and consequent decrease of organic matter flux to the seafloor leads to less sediment oxygen consumption and higher oxygen concentrations in bottom waters. However, changes in regenerated nitrogen on the VIS barely affect primary production due to the efficient supply of new nutrients through wind-driven upwelling during summer and the nutrient-rich coastal current. We recommend that modelling experiments focusing on oxygen dynamics (as well as oxygen budget calculations) should include sediment denitrification in coastal regions where regenerated primary production dominates productivity.

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