The Impact of Incomplete Nutrient Consumption in the Southern Ocean on Global Mean Ocean Nitrate δ15N

F. Fripiat, D. M. Sigman, A. Martínez-García, D. Marconi, X. E. Ai, A. Auderset, S. E. Fawcett, S. Moretti, A. S. Studer, G. H. Haug

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is understood that the global mean ocean nitrate δ15N is set by the δ15N of the input of fixed nitrogen (N) to the ocean (mostly N2 fixation) and the net isotopic discrimination of fixed N loss (mostly denitrification). Here, we demonstrate that, in addition to the fixed nitrogen input/output budget, the isotopic discrimination of nitrate assimilation in the Southern Ocean also plays a role in setting the δ15N of both deep ocean nitrate and global mean ocean nitrate. A prognostic model is used to simulate the global overturning circulation, focusing on the Southern Ocean overturning cell that ventilates the global pycnocline. N2 fixation and denitrification occur mainly in the model's surface and pycnocline boxes, as is appropriate given the observations. Experiments with this model indicate that, at a steady state, pycnocline nitrate δ15N is mostly controlled by the ocean's fixed N budget. Simultaneously, partial nitrate assimilation in the Southern Ocean sets the nitrate δ15N difference between the pycnocline and the deep ocean, lowering the δ15N of deep ocean nitrate and thus also of global mean ocean nitrate. The Southern Ocean's impact on deep and mean ocean nitrate δ15N depends on (a) the degree of nitrate consumption in the Southern Ocean surface waters and (b) the proportion of water that enters the pycnocline by subduction from the Southern Ocean surface. Including the effect of the Southern Ocean on mean ocean nitrate δ15N modestly reduces a previously calculated imbalance between fixed N inputs and outputs. Moreover, this effect has implications for paleoceanographic N isotope records.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2022GB007442
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science


  • N fixation
  • Southern Ocean
  • denitrification
  • nitrate assimilation
  • nitrate isotopes
  • overturning circulation
  • ωN-LL


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