Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Frank E. Muller-Karger

Keywords

oxic-anoxic interface, primary production, sediment traps, stable isotopes, upwelling

Abstract

This study explored the effects of seasonal variability on the geochemistry of sinking pthesiss and on the nitrogen cycle of the Cariaco Basin. Pthesis fluxes were measured at the base of the euphotic zone (the depth of 1% of photosynthetically active radiation - PAR) with drifting sediment traps during months of upwelling and non-upwelling regimes from March 2007 to November 2009. Flux estimates were analyzed in the context of seasonal variations in sea surface temperature, primary productivity, and chlorophyll a concentrations using data generated by the CARIACO Time-series Program as well as satellite data. Additionally, nine years (1996-2000 and 2004-2007) of nutrients, phytoplankton taxonomy and δ15N of sinking pthesis data within the twilight zone (225 m) from the CARIACO Time-series Program were examined. Results showed that the flux of organic matter responded to changes in surface chlorophyll a but not to primary production. Sinking organic matter decreased by an order of magnitude from the base of the euphotic zone to the oxic-anoxic interface; most of the organic matter produced in surface waters was remineralized before leaving the upper 50-100 m. Lithogenic material often represented a large fraction of the flux. Isotopic analyses showed that 13C/12C ratios of sinking organic carbon were enriched (~-19‰) during the upwelling period and depleted during relaxation (~-23‰). This reflects seasonal changes in inorganic carbon utilization by phytoplankton and suggests that the δ13C of organic carbon in Cariaco sediments can be used as a proxy for carbon fixation by primary producers. The δ15N of the settling flux was influenced by the strength of the upwelling and the presence of the nitrogen fixer Trichodesmium thiebautii in the basin in different seasons; the 15N/14N ratio of sinking nitrogen reflects both imported and local nitrogen fixation signals. This result argues against previous interpretations of the δ15N from the basin's sedimentary record, which suggested that the nitrogen isotopic composition of flux is influenced by denitrification at the oxic-anoxic interface.

Dissolved gas samples from the Cariaco eastern and western sub-basins from September 2008 (non-upwelling) and March 2009 (upwelling) were studied to assess the production of biogenic nitrogen gas through mass spectrometric N2/Ar ratiometry. Excess nitrogen gas indicated that upwelling affects the intensity of denitrification at the oxic-anoxic interface. In four of the six stations the concentration of biogenic nitrogen gas at the oxic-anoxic interface was 2.7-6.1 µM N higher during the upwelling period than during the relaxation season (p< 0.001), implying that denitrification in the basin was stimulated by the vertical flux of organic matter and/or the ventilation of the oxic-anoxic interface by oxygenated and nutrient-rich intermediate Caribbean waters.

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