Marine Science Faculty Publications

Sources of Δ15N Variability in Sinking Particulate Nitrogen in the Cariaco Basin, Venezuela

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Cariaco Basin, Climate variability, Nitrogen fixation, Nitrogen isotopes, Sediment traps, Sinking particulate organic matter

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Ten years of monthly observations of the δ15N of sinking particulate nitrogen (δ15N-PN (in ‰ versus atmospheric N2)=[(15N/14N)sample/(15N/14N)standard)-1]1000) in the Cariaco Basin, Venezuela, confirm that the basin's bottom sediments store information about nitrogen dynamics related to seasonal and interannual variability in regional surface ocean processes. During the upwelling period of the southern Caribbean Sea (February-April), the δ15N-PN is similar to that of the thermocline nitrate (~3.5‰). This nitrate is imported into the Cariaco Basin with Subtropical Underwater (SUW), which wells up near the coast. Thus, particles generated by phytoplankton photosynthesis during this productive period bear a sub-tropical North Atlantic isotopic imprint of N2 fixation (low compared to the global average of nitrate δ15N≈5‰). During the non-upwelling period when surface waters are stratified (September-November), the δ15N-PN is also 3.5-4.0‰, and reflects a mixture of local N2 fixation within the mixed layer, inputs of terrigenous organic matter and SUW nitrate consumption by phytoplankton below the mixed layer, which most likely exerts the strongest control on the δ15N-PN signal during this time. In the transition periods of May-July and December-January, the δ15N-PN increases to 4.5-6.5‰. This coincides with maxima of continental material fluxes (terrestrial PON δ15N is >6‰) into the Cariaco Basin. The δ15N signal in the sediments of the Cariaco Basin thus provides information about the relative strength of the local coastal upwelling, the relative input of continental material via river runoff, and local N2 fixation. The findings contribute to interpretations of the basin's paleoclimatic nitrogen cycle variations based on observations of the sedimentary δ15N record at this location.

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Deep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography, v. 93, p. 96-107