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Collaborative Research: GEOTRACES Arctic Ocean section-Constraining Nitrogen Cycling in the western Arctic Ocean


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Ocean & fiord systems
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In this project, a group of investigators from the University of Connecticut, the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, and Brown University will participate in the 2015 U.S. GEOTRACES Arctic expedition to determine the biogeochemistry of nitrogen in the region. In common with other multinational initiatives in the International GEOTRACES Program, the goals of the U.S. Arctic expedition are to identify processes and quantify fluxes that control the distributions of key trace elements and isotopes in the ocean, and to establish the sensitivity of these distributions to changing environmental conditions. Some trace elements are essential to life, others are known biological toxins, and still others are important because they can be used as tracers of a variety of physical, chemical, and biological processes in the sea. Nitrogen is one of the two major nutrients required universally by plankton in the ocean, and this study in the Arctic Ocean will increase our understanding of the ocean's ecology, productivity, and carbon cycle. This study will also provide training for graduate and undergraduate students, and results will be shared through public outreach events. The state of knowledge of Arctic nitrogen (N) biogeochemistry remains cursory as compared to that in other ocean basins despite the fact that understanding Arctic Ocean nitrogen cycling is central to understanding its global biogeochemistry. For one, benthic nitrogen loss on Arctic continental shelves may represent a globally significant sink of oceanic fixed nitrogen. Second, benthic nitrogen loss on the Arctic continental shelf and slope reduces the ratio of nitrate to phosphate substantially below the mean requirements of phytoplankton nitrogen, consequently limiting primary production at the ice-free surface of the western Arctic Ocean. In light of the rapid changes in Arctic climatology, the characterization of its biogeochemistry and establishment of a baseline from which to monitor future changes is critical. Researchers will use the stable N isotope (15N/14N) ratio in nitrate, nitrite, ammonium, and nitrogen gas determined for a suite of dissolved, particulate, atmospheric, snow, and sea-ice samples to better constrain the spatial and temporal variability of biological nitrogen transformations in the Arctic. Results from this study will provide a first order understanding of the contribution of water masses to the regional nitrogen budget, identify regional nitrogen sources and sinks, and diagnose important biological nitrogen transformations that occur on the Chukchi shelf, and in the central basins.