The biogeochemistry of continental shelf systems plays an important role in the global elemental cycling of nitrogen and carbon, but remains poorly quantified. We have developed a high-resolution physical-biological model for the U.S. east coast continental shelf and adjacent deep ocean that is nested within a basin-wide North Atlantic circulation model in order to estimate nitrogen fluxes in the shelf area of the Middle Atlantic Bight (MAB). Our biological model is a relatively simple representation of nitrogen cycling processes in the water column and organic matter remineralization at the water-sediment interface that explicitly accounts for sediment denitrification. Climatological and regionally integrated means of nitrate, ammonium, and surface chlorophyll are compared with its model equivalents and were found to agree within 1 standard deviation. We also present regional means of primary production and denitrification, and statistical measures of chlorophyll pattern variability. A nitrogen budget for the MAB shows that the sediment denitrification flux is quantitatively important in determining the availability of fixed nitrogen and shelf primary production (it was found to remove 90% of all the nitrogen entering the MAB). Extrapolation of nitrogen fluxes estimated for the MAB to the North Atlantic basin suggests that shelf denitrification removes 2.3 × 1012 mol N annually; this estimate exceeds estimates of N2 fixation by up to an order of magnitude. Our results emphasize the importance of representing shelf processes in biogeochemical models.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Global and Planetary Change
- Environmental Chemistry
- Environmental Science(all)
- Atmospheric Science