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https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2019-347
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2019-347
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 10 Sep 2019

Submitted as: research article | 10 Sep 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Biogeosciences (BG).

No nitrogen fixation in the Bay of Bengal?

Carolin R. Löscher1,2, Wiebke Mohr3, Hermann W. Bange4, and Donald E. Canfield1 Carolin R. Löscher et al.
  • 1Nordcee, Department of Biology, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
  • 2D-IAS, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
  • 3Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, Germany
  • 4GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel, Kiel, Germany

Abstract. The Bay of Bengal (BoB) has long stood as a biogeochemical enigma with subsurface waters containing extremely low, but persistent, concentrations of oxygen in the nanomolar range which – for some, yet unconstrained reason – are prevented from becoming anoxic. One reason for this may be the low productivity of the BoB waters due to nutrient limitation, and the resulting lack of respiration of organic material at intermediate waters. Thus, the parameters determining primary production are key to understanding what prevents the BoB from developing anoxia. Primary productivity in the sunlit surface layers of tropical oceans is mostly limited by the supply of reactive nitrogen through upwelling, riverine flux, atmospheric deposition, and biological dinitrogen (N2) fixation. In the BoB, a stable stratification limits nutrient supply via upwelling in the open waters, and riverine or atmospheric fluxes have been shown to support only less than one quarter of the nitrogen for primary production. This leaves a large uncertainty for most of the BoB's nitrogen input, suggesting a potential role of N2 fixation in those waters.

Here, we present a survey of N2 fixation and carbon fixation in the BoB during the winter monsoon season. We detected a community of N2 fixers comparable to other OMZ regions, with only a few cyanobacterial clades and a broad diversity of non-phototrophic N2 fixers present throughout the water column (samples collected between 10 m and 560 m water depth). While similar communities of N2 fixers were shown to actively fix N2 in other OMZs, N2 fixation rates were below the detection limit in our samples covering the water column between the deep chlorophyll maximum and the OMZ. Consistent with this, no N2 fixation signal was visible in δ15N signatures. We suggest that the absence of N2 fixation may be a consequence of a micronutrient limitation or of an O2 sensitivity of the OMZ diazotrophs in the BoB. To explore how the onset of N2 fixation by cyanobacteria compared to non-phototrophic N2 fixers would impact on OMZ O2 concentrations, a simple model exercise was carried out. We observed that both, photic zone-based and OMZ-based N2 fixation are very sensitive to even minimal changes in water column stratification, with stronger mixing increasing organic matter production and export, which would exhaust remaining O2 traces in the BoB.

Carolin R. Löscher et al.
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Carolin R. Löscher et al.
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Short summary
Oxygen minimum zones (OMZ) are ocean areas severely depleted in oxygen. as a result of physical, chemical and biological processes. Biologically, organic material produced in the sea surface and exported to deeper waters where it is respired. In the Bay of Bengal (BoB), an OMZ is present, but there are traces of oxygen left. Our study now suggests that this is because one key process, namely nitrogen fixation, is absent in the BoB thus preventing primary production and consecutive respiration.
Oxygen minimum zones (OMZ) are ocean areas severely depleted in oxygen. as a result of physical,...
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