Distribution of inorganic and organic nutrients in the South Pacific Ocean – evidence for long-term accumulation of organic matter in nitrogen-depleted waters

Abstract : The BIOSOPE cruise of the RV Atalante was devoted to study the biogeochemical properties in the South Pacific between the Marquesas Islands (141° W–8° S) and the Chilean upwelling (73° W–34° S). The 8000 km cruise had the opportunity to encounter different trophic situations, and especially strong oligotrophic conditions in the Central South Pacific Gyre (SPG, between 123° W and 101° W). In this isolated region, nitrate was undetectable between surface and 160–180 m, while regenerated nitrogen (nitrite and ammonium) only revealed some traces (<20 nmoles l-1), even in the subsurface maximum. Integrated nitrate over the photic layer, which reached 165 m, was close to zero. In spite of this severe nitrogen-depletion, phosphate was always present at significant concentrations (˜0.1 µmoles l-1), while silicate maintained at low but classical oceanic levels (˜1 µmoles l-1). In contrast, the Marquesas region (MAR) at west and Chilean upwelling (UPW) at east were characterized by large nutrient contents one hundred to one thousand fold higher than in the SPG. Distribution of surface chlorophyll concentration reflected this gradient of nitrate availability. The lowest value (0.023 nmoles l-1) was measured in the centre of the SPG, where integrated chlorophyll over the photic layer was very weak (˜10 mg m-2), since a great part (up to 50%) of the deep chlorophyll maximum (DCM) was located below the 1% light. But, because of the relative high concentration encountered in the DCM (0.2 µg l-1), chlorophyll a content over the photic layer varied much less (by a factor 2 to 5) than the nitrate content. In contrast to chlorophyll a, integrated content of particulate organic matter (POM) remained more or less constant along the investigated area (500 mmoles m-2, 60 mmoles m-2 and 3.5 mmoles m-2 for particulate organic carbon, particulate organic nitrogen and particulate organic phosphorus, respectively), except in the upwelling where values were two fold higher. Extensive comparison has shown that glass fiber GF/F filters efficiency collected particulate chlorophyll, while a significant fraction of POM (up to 50%) passed trough this filter and was retained by 0.2 µm Teflon membrane. The most striking feature was the large accumulation of dissolved organic matter (DOM) in the SPG relative to surrounding waters, especially dissolved organic carbon (DOC) where concentrations were at levels rarely measured in oceanic waters (>100 µmoles l-1). Due to this large pool of DOM over the whole photic layer of the SPG, integrated values followed an opposite geographical pattern than this of inorganic nutrients with a large accumulation within the centre of the SPG. While suspended particulate matter in the mixed layer had C/N ratio largely conform to Redfield stoichiometry (C/N˜6.6), marked deviations were observed in this excess DOM (C/N˜16 to 23). The existence of C-rich dissolved organic matter is recognized as a feature typical of oligotrophic waters, requiring the over consumption of carbon. Thus, in spite of strong nitrate-depletion leading to low chlorophyll biomass, the closed ecosystem of the SPG can produce a large amount of carbon. The implications of this finding are discussed, the conclusion being that, due to the lack of seasonal vertical mixing and weak lateral advection, the dissolved organic carbon biologically produced can be accumulated and stored in the photic layer for a very long period.
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Patrick Raimbault, N. Garcia, F. Cerutti. Distribution of inorganic and organic nutrients in the South Pacific Ocean – evidence for long-term accumulation of organic matter in nitrogen-depleted waters. Biogeosciences Discussions, European Geosciences Union, 2007, 4 (4), pp.3041-3087. ⟨hal-00330264⟩

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