National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2021

Spatiotemporal variability of the nitrogen deficit in bottom waters on the eastern Bering Sea shelf

Mordy, C.W., L. Eisner, K. Kearney, D. Kimmel, M.W. Lomas, K. Mier, P. Proctor, P.H. Ressler, P. Stabeno, and E. Wisegarver

Cont. Shelf Res., 224, 104423, doi: 10.1016/j.csr.2021.104423, View online (2021)

As water flows from the North Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Ocean, it passes through the shallow eastern shelf of the Bering Sea which serves as a major sink of inorganic nitrogen. This study explores the physical and biological factors that influence the spatiotemporal variability of this sink. A regional relationship of dissolved inorganic nitrogen to inorganic phosphorus (DIN:P) was established for waters entering the shelf. Residuals from this relationship (termed N∗∗) are a measure of the nitrogen deficit and were determined for bottom waters on the shelf using nutrient data collected on 52 hydrographic cruises spanning 2003 – 2018. Spatial variability in N∗∗ was related to advection, cross-shelf and vertical mixing, and residence time (using simulated ages of bottom water over the middle shelf). On average, this deficit accounted for approximately one-third of the inorganic nitrogen that enters the shelf, and the highest deficits (>8 ​μM DIN) were observed on the middle shelf between 60°N and St. Lawrence Island (63°N). Temporal variability in N∗∗ was examined over the middle shelf, and higher nitrogen deficits that occurred in colder years were hypothesized to result from weaker flow and increased export of organic matter in the presence of sea ice. On the southern middle shelf, the volume integrated (40 ​m to bottom) seasonal change in N∗∗ was equivalent to a denitrification rate of 0.7 ​± ​0.3 ​mmol ​N m-2 d-1. Rates of nitrogen loss were also estimated by combining N∗∗ with the simulated residence time of water on the shelf and found to be 0.20 ​± ​0.02 ​mmol ​N m-2 d-1. These rates were comparable to prior measurements of denitrification/anammox reported on the shelf. The nitrogen deficit could not be wholly ascribed to denitrification/anammox as the N:P stoichiometric ratio in particulate matter is known to be lower at higher latitudes, and a lower ratio was observed when dissolved organic matter was measured in a small number of samples. It remains unclear how future reductions in sea ice might impact the extent of nitrogen loss in the Bering Sea.

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