Nitrogen loss processes in response to upwelling in a Peruvian coastal setting dominated by denitrification - A mesocosm approach

Kai G. Schulz, Eric P. Achterberg, Javier Arístegui, Lennart T. Bach, Isabel Baños, Tim Boxhammer, Dirk Erler, Maricarmen Igarza, Verena Kalter, Andrea Ludwig, Carolin Löscher, Jana Meyer, Judith Meyer, Fabrizio Minutolo, Elisabeth Von Der Esch, Bess B. Ward, Ulf Riebesell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Upwelling of nutrient-rich deep waters make eastern boundary upwelling systems (EBUSs), such as the Humboldt Current system, hot spots of marine productivity. Associated settling of organic matter to depth and consecutive aerobic decomposition results in large subsurface water volumes being oxygen depleted. Under these circumstances, organic matter remineralisation can continue via denitrification, which represents a major loss pathway for bioavailable nitrogen. Additionally, anaerobic ammonium oxidation can remove significant amounts of nitrogen in these areas. Here we assess the interplay of suboxic water upwelling and nitrogen cycling in a manipulative offshore mesocosm experiment. Measured denitrification rates in incubations with water from the oxygen-depleted bottom layer of the mesocosms (via 15N label incubations) mostly ranged between 5.5 and 20gnmolgN2gL-1gh-1 (interquartile range), reaching up to 80gnmolgN2gL-1gh-1. However, actual in situ rates in the mesocosms, estimated via Michaelis-Menten kinetic scaling, did most likely not exceed 0.2-4.2gnmolgN2gL-1gh-1 (interquartile range) due to substrate limitation. In the surrounding Pacific, measured denitrification rates were similar, although indications of substrate limitation were detected only once. In contrast, anammox (anaerobic ammonium oxidation) made only a minor contribution to the overall nitrogen loss when encountered in both the mesocosms and the Pacific Ocean. This was potentially related to organic matter Cg/gN stoichiometry and/or process-specific oxygen and hydrogen sulfide sensitivities. Over the first 38gd of the experiment, total nitrogen loss calculated from in situ rates of denitrification and anammox was comparable to estimates from a full nitrogen budget in the mesocosms and ranged between g1/4g1 and 5.5gmolgNgL-1. This represents up to g1/4g20g% of the initially bioavailable inorganic and organic nitrogen standing stocks. Interestingly, this loss is comparable to the total amount of particulate organic nitrogen that was exported into the sediment traps at the bottom of the mesocosms at about 20gm depth. Altogether, this suggests that a significant portion, if not the majority of nitrogen that could be exported to depth, is already lost, i.e. converted to N2 in a relatively shallow layer of the surface ocean, provided that there are oxygen-deficient conditions like those during coastal upwelling in our study. Published data for primary productivity and nitrogen loss in all EBUSs reinforce such conclusion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4305-4320
Number of pages16
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 23 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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