MEPS 176:205-214 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/meps176205

Rainfall stimulation of primary production in western Atlantic Ocean waters: roles of different nitrogen sources and co-limiting nutrients

Hans W. Paerl1,*, Joan D. Willey2, Malia Go1, Benjamin L. Peierls1, James L. Pinckney3, Marilyn L. Fogel4

1University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Institute of Marine Sciences, 3431 Arendell Street, Morehead City, North Carolina 28557, USA
2University of North Carolina, Wilmington, Department of Chemistry and Marine Science Program, Wilmington, North Carolina 28403-3297, USA
3Texas A & M University, Department of Oceanography, College Station, Texas 77843-3146, USA
4Carnegie Institution of Washington, Geophysical Laboratory, Washington, DC 20015, USA

ABSTRACT: Using shipboard bioassays, we examined the roles rainfall, individual and combined nutrients play in accelerating primary production in coastal, Gulf Stream and pelagic (Sargasso Sea) locations in the North Atlantic Ocean off North Carolina, USA, from 1993 to 1995. Photosynthetic CO2 fixation and net chlorophyll a (chl a) production were measured in replicated bioassays to assess individual and combined impacts of different constituents of atmospheric deposition, including natural rainfall, a synthetic rain mix, dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN; NH4+, NO3-), dissolved organic nitrogen (DON; urea), phosphorus (PO43-) and iron (as EDTA-chelated and unchelated FeCl3). Natural rainfall and DIN additions most often stimulated CO2 fixation and chl a production, but frequencies and magnitudes of biostimulation, relative to controls, varied between these indicators. Spatial differences in the types and magnitudes of stimulation were also observed. When added in equimolar amounts, NH4+ was, at times, more stimulatory than NO3-. The NO3- stimulation was significantly enhanced by Fe-EDTA. Urea was marginally stimulatory at the coastal location. PO43- was never stimulatory. Fe-EDTA and EDTA by themselves stimulated production only at the offshore locations, suggesting increased Fe limitation with increasing distance from land. Synthetic rain, which contained both sources of DIN, but not Fe, generally proved less stimulatory per unit N than natural rainfall. Results indicate a broad sensitivity of these waters to N additions, which in the case of NO3- are enhanced by Fe-EDTA. At all locations, the high level of stimulation of primary production attributable to natural rain may be due to the supply of both DIN and co-limiting nutrients (e.g. Fe), contributing to the eutrophication potential of waters downwind of urban, industrial and agricultural emissions.

KEY WORDS: Atmospheric deposition · Nitrogen · Iron · Primary production · Eutrophication · W. Atlantic Ocean

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