Nitrate supply routes and impact of internal cycling in the North Atlantic Ocean inferred from nitrate isotopic composition

F. Deman, D. Fonseca‐Batista, A. Roukaerts, M. I. García‐Ibáñez, E. Le Roy, E. P. D. N. Thilakarathne, M. Elskens, F. Dehairs, F. Fripiat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


In this study we report full‐depth water column profiles for nitrogen and oxygen isotopic composition (δ15N and δ18O) of nitrate (NO3‐) during the GEOTRACES GA01 cruise (2014). This transect intersects the double gyre system of the subtropical and subpolar regions of the North Atlantic separated by a strong transition zone, the North Atlantic Current. The distribution of NO3‐ δ15N and δ18O shows that assimilation by phytoplankton is the main process controlling the NO3‐ isotopic composition in the upper 150 m, with values increasing in a NO3‐ δ18O versus δ15N space along a line with a slope of one towards the surface. In the subpolar gyre, a single relationship between the degree of NO3‐ consumption and residual NO3‐ δ15N supports the view that NO3‐ is supplied via Ekman upwelling and deep winter convection, and progressively consumed during the Ekman transport of surface water southward. The co‐occurrence of partial NO3‐ assimilation and nitrification in the deep mixed layer of the subpolar gyre elevates subsurface NO3‐ δ18O in comparison to deep oceanic values. This signal propagates through isopycnal exchanges to greater depths at lower latitudes. With recirculation in the subtropical gyre, cycles of quantitative consumption‐nitrification progressively decrease subsurface NO3‐ δ18O toward the δ18O of regenerated NO3‐. The low NO3‐ δ15N observed south of the Subarctic Front is mostly explained by N2 fixation, although a contribution from the Mediterranean outflow is required to explain the lower NO3‐ δ15N signal observed between 600 and 1500 m depth close to the Iberian margin.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020GB006887
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number4
Early online date2 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • Atlantic
  • isotopy
  • nitrate

Cite this