Observations of nutrient supply by mesoscale eddy stirring and small‐scale turbulence in the oligotrophic North Atlantic

Type Article
Date 2021-12
Language English
Author(s) Spingys Carl P.ORCID1, Williams Richard G.ORCID2, Tuerena Robyn E.ORCID3, Garabato Alberto NaveiraORCID1, Vic Clement4, Forryan Alexander1, Sharples JonathanORCID2
Affiliation(s) 1 : Ocean and Earth Science University of Southampton National Oceanography Centre Southampton ,UK
2 : Department of Earth Ocean and Ecological Sciences School of Environmental Sciences University of Liverpool Liverpool, UK
3 : Scottish Association for Marine Science Oban, UK
4 : Laboratoire d’Océanographie Physique et Spatiale UBO/CNRS/Ifremer/IRD Plouzané, France
Source Global Biogeochemical Cycles (0886-6236) (American Geophysical Union (AGU)), 2021-12 , Vol. 35 , N. 12 , P. e2021GB007200 (20p.)
DOI 10.1029/2021GB007200
WOS© Times Cited 2
Keyword(s) Nutrient supply, Diapycnic mixing, Diapycnic advection, Mesoscale eddies, Isopycnal stirring, North Atlantic

Sustaining biological export over the open ocean requires a physical supply of nutrients to the mixed layer and thermocline. The relative importance of diapycnal mixing, diapycnal advection and isopycnal stirring by mesoscale eddies in providing this nutrient supply is explored using a field campaign in oligotrophic waters in the subtropical North Atlantic, consisting of transects over and off the mid-Atlantic ridge. Eddy stirring rates are estimated from the excess temperature variance dissipation relative to the turbulent kinetic energy dissipation, and using eddy statistics from satellite observations combined with 9-month-long mooring data. The vertical nutrient fluxes by diapycnal mixing, diapycnal advection and isopycnal mesoscale eddy stirring are assessed using nitrate measurements from observations or a climatology. Diapycnal mixing and advection provide a nutrient supply within the euphotic zone, but a loss of nutrients within the upper thermocline. Eddy stirring augments, and is comparable to, the diapycnal transfer of nutrients within the summertime upper thermocline, while also acting to replenish nutrients within the deeper parts of the thermocline. The eddy supply of nitrate is relatively small in the centre of the subtropical gyre, reaching up to 0.06 mol N m−2yr−1, but is likely to be enhanced on the flanks of the gyre due to larger isopycnal slopes and lateral nitrate gradients. The nutrient supply to the euphotic zone is achieved via a multi-stage mechanism: a diapycnal transfer of nutrients by small-scale turbulence to the euphotic zone, and an isopycnal stirring of nutrients by mesoscale eddies replenishing nutrients in the upper thermocline.

Plain Language Summary

Phytoplankton growth requires a supply of nutrients to the base of the euphotic zone, which is usually provided by a combination of vertical mixing or vertical upwelling of nutrients. However, in the oligotrophic waters of the central North Atlantic, it is unclear how the vertical supply of nutrients is sustained. Here we use field data to explore the roles of mixing across density surfaces, advection across density surfaces and mesoscale eddy stirring along density surfaces in supplying nutrients to some of the most nutrient-depleted surface waters in the central North Atlantic. Diapycnal mixing and advection are found to be important in supplying nutrients to the euphotic zone during summer, but at the expense of eroding the nutrients in the upper thermocline. In contrast, mesoscale eddy stirring augments the diapycnal supply of nutrients to the euphotic zone, and replenishes nutrients in the upper thermocline.

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Spingys Carl P., Williams Richard G., Tuerena Robyn E., Garabato Alberto Naveira, Vic Clement, Forryan Alexander, Sharples Jonathan (2021). Observations of nutrient supply by mesoscale eddy stirring and small‐scale turbulence in the oligotrophic North Atlantic. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 35(12), e2021GB007200 (20p.). Publisher's official version : https://doi.org/10.1029/2021GB007200 , Open Access version : https://archimer.ifremer.fr/doc/00736/84803/