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Free Content On the interannual variability of nitrogen fixation in the subtropical gyres

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Time-series observations of geochemical tracers and diazotroph abundances in the northern subtropical gyres suggest variability in nitrogen fixation on interannual and longer timescales. Using a highly idealized model of the biogeochemistry and ecology of a subtropical gyre, we explore the previously proposed hypothesis that such variability is regulated by an internal "biogeochemical oscillator." We find, in certain parameter regimes, self-sustained oscillations in nitrogen fixation, community structure and biogeochemical cycles even with perfectly steady physical forcing. During the oscillations of nitrogen fixation, "blooms" of diazotrophs occur at intervals between a year and several decades, consistent with the observed variability. The period of the oscillations is strongly regulated by the exchange rate between the thermocline and mixed-layer waters. The oscillatory solutions occur in a relatively small region of parameter space, but one in which the relative fitness of diazotrophs and non-diazotrophs are closely matched and the time-averaged biomass of each class of phytoplankton is maximized.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2009

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  • The Journal of Marine Research, one of the oldest journals in American marine science, publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. Biological studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. The editors strive always to serve authors and readers in the academic oceanographic community by publishing papers vital to the marine research in the long and rich tradition of the Sears Foundation for Marine Research. We welcome you to the Journal of Marine Research.
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