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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 408:7-18 (2010)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps08558

Stable isotope composition and turnover of nitrate in the German Bight

Kirstin Dähnke1,2,3,*, Kay Emeis1,2, Astrid Johannsen1,2, Birgit Nagel1,2

1GKSS Research Centre, 21502 Geesthacht, Germany
2IfBM, University of Hamburg, 20146 Hamburg, Germany
3Present address: Institute of Biology, University of Southern Denmark, 5230 Odense M, Denmark

ABSTRACT: The German Bight is a hot-spot of eutrophication in the North Sea due to nitrate loads discharged by several large rivers into this semi-isolated embayment. River nitrate loads have a distinctly higher 15N/14N ratio than nitrate in open North Sea waters, and to trace the sphere of river influence we analysed stable isotope signatures of water column nitrate in the area on a grid of stations in winter and early spring 2007. Overall spatial patterns of 15N/14N and 18O/16O in nitrate reflect the predominant influence of nitrate discharged by the Rhine and Elbe rivers on the German Bight nitrate pool. On a smaller scale, however, and in offshore stations, nitrate assimilation of an incipient phytoplankton bloom is indicated by parallel enrichment of 15N and 18O in nitrate. Intriguingly, the enrichment ratio of 18ONO3 to 15NNO3 is 1.6:1, thus differing from the ratio of 1:1 associated with uptake by marine phytoplankton. This suggests that nitrate isotopic composition is not solely affected by phytoplankton assimilation, but that a substantial portion of nitrate in the outer regions of the German Bight is derived from nitrification, despite low ambient temperatures. Moreover, the data identify remineralisation and nitrification of particulate N in sediments as important sources of dissolved inorganic nitrogen to the German Bight water column, and underscore the role of sediments in recharging water column nutrient inventories.


KEY WORDS: Nitrogen cycle · δ15N · δ18O · Stable isotopes · German Bight · Nitrification


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Cite this article as: Dähnke K, Emeis K, Johannsen A, Nagel B (2010) Stable isotope composition and turnover of nitrate in the German Bight. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 408:7-18. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps08558

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