First Evidence of Anoxia and Nitrogen Loss in the Southern Canary Upwelling System

The northeastern Atlantic hosts the most ventilated subsurface waters of any eastern boundary upwelling system, while coastal upwelling source waters are slightly above hypoxic levels. Anoxic conditions have previously been found offshore inside mesoscale eddies whose core waters undergo oxygen consumption for many months. Based on circumstantial in situ observations this study demonstrates that the Senegalese coastal ocean is subjected to episodic occurrence of zero dissolved oxygen concentration at depth along with elevated nitrite concentration (11 mmol/m3) and nitrate/nitrite deficit to phosphate, thereby indicating severe anoxia and intense nitrogen loss. The anoxic event was associated with a prolonged upwelling relaxation episode in March 2012 and a near shore diatom bloom that underwent degradation while being advected offshore in stratified waters. This is consistent with scenarios observed in other upwelling systems (Benguela and California) and such conditions are presumably frequent in the southern part of the Canary system.

Plain Language Summary

Oxygen is a key requirement for respiration by marine living organisms. Warming of the atmosphere and the ocean surface to reduces the oxygenation of offshore waters. Similarly, the extra load of nutrients from agriculture or waste waters modify algal production, particularly in coastal regionsoften resulting in oxygen‐depleted waters. Specific reactions affecting the ionic forms of nitrogen also occur within oxygen‐depleted waters also impact the nitrogen cycle by generating nitrite, which is poisonous for marine organisms, and nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas.We took measurements at sea to show that a poorly studied coastal sector of the North Atlantic Ocean, the Senegalese continental shelf, can be episodically subjected to complete depletion of subsurface oxygen (anoxia) as well as high nitrite concentrations, constituting the first report of anoxia for this oceanic region. We also show that this anoxia is likely the consequence of the decay of a bloom of diatoms, a group of microalgae common in this type of ecosystem thatinitially developed in shallow waters and transported offshore by anomalous currents associated with low‐wind conditions.


oxygen, canary upwelling system, anoxia, denitrification, shallow continental shelf

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How to cite
Machu Eric, Capet Xavier, Estrade Philippe, Ndoye S., Brajard J., Baurand Francois, Auger P.-A., Lazar A., Brehmer Patrice (2019). First Evidence of Anoxia and Nitrogen Loss in the Southern Canary Upwelling System. Geophysical Research Letters. 46 (5). 2619-2627.,

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