Bacterial transformations of inorganic nitrogen in the oxygen-deficient waters of the Eastern Tropical South Pacific Ocean

F. Lipschultz, S. C. Wofsy, Bettie Ward, L. A. Codispoti, G. Friedrich, J. W. Elkins

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Rates of transformations of inorganic nitrogen were measured in the low oxygen, subsurface waters (50-450 m) of the Eastern Tropical South Pacific during February 1985, using 15N tracer techniques. Oxygen concentrations over the entire region were in a range (O2 < 2.5 μM) that allowed both oxidation and reduction of nitrogen to occur. A wide range of rates was observed for the lowest oxygen levels, indicating that observed oxygen concentration was not a primary factor regulating nitrogen metabolism. High values for subsurface metabolic rates correspond with high levels for surface primary production, both apparently associated with mesoscale features observed in satellite imagery and with mesoscale features of the current field. Measured rates of nitrate reduction and estimated rates of denitrification were sufficient to respire nearly all of the surface primary production that might be transported into the oxygen deficient zone. These results imply that the supply of labile organic material, especially from the surface, was more important than oxygen concentration in modulating the rates of nitrogen transformations within the low oxygen water mass of the Eastern Tropical South Pacific. The pattern of nitrite oxidation and nitrite reduction activities in the oxygen minimum zone supports the hypothesis (Anderson et al., 1982, Deep-Sea Research, 29, 1113-1140) that nitrite, produced from nitrate reduction, can be recycled by oxidation at the interface between low and high oxygen waters. Rates for denitrification, estimated from nitrate reduction rates, were in harmony with previous estimates based on electron transport system (ETS) measurements and analysis of the nitrate deficit and water residence times. Assimilation rates of NH4+ were substantial, providing evidence for heterotrophic bacterial growth in low oxygen waters. Ambient concentrations of ammonium were maintained at low values primarily by assimilation; ammonium oxidation was an important mechanism at the surface boundary of the low oxygen zone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1513-1541
Number of pages29
JournalDeep Sea Research Part A, Oceanographic Research Papers
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1990

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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