Controls on the distributions of organic carbon and nitrogen in the eastern Pacific Ocean

Dennis A. Hansell, Tye Y. Waterhouse

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68 Scopus citations


Measurements of total organic carbon (TOC) and nitrogen (TON) were made on the WOCE P18 line (from 67°S to 23°N along 103°/11°W). There was an accumulation of TOC on the equator and in the oligotrophic waters north and south of the equator. The concentrations of TOC were well correlated with temperature, indicating an important physical control on its distribution. The boundary separating shallow, TOC-rich water from deep, TOC-poor water overlaid the main thermocline. This observation suggests that water column stability or residence time imparted by the main thermocline is a primary determinant of TOC accumulation. Elevated TON concentrations were found in all surface waters, with the lowest values found in the region of 20-35DS. Net TON drawdown in the South Pacific subtropical gyre, likely due to biological utilization and vertical export of the nitrogen, was initiated with depletion of equatorially upwelled nitrate. The degree to which inorganic nitrogen was limiting in the surface layer south of the equator served to control the concentrations of TON. Such controls were not exerted on organic carbon, as reflected by increasing C:N ratios of organic matter as TON was removed. Unlike the findings in the South Pacific, TON concentrations in oligotrophic waters north of the equator were frequently higher than on the equator. Such accumulations are hypothesized to be maintained from nitrogen fixation, nitrogen input due to vertical migration of autotrophs or diffusive flux of inorganic nitrogen into the euphotic zone across the relatively shallow nitracline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)843-857
Number of pages15
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


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