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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 60(10)

Sources of nutrients driving production in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia: a shallow tropical shelf system

Michele A. Burford A D, Peter C. Rothlisberg B, Andrew T. Revill C

A Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Qld 4111, Australia.
B CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, PO Box 120, Cleveland, Qld 4163, Australia.
C CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, GPO Box 1538, Hobart, Tas. 7001, Australia.
D Corresponding author. Email: m.burford@griffith.edu.au
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The tropical Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia, has recently been identified as one of the world’s least impacted marine areas, presenting a unique opportunity to understand the nutrient drivers of productivity. The present study examined the nitrogen (N) sources and transformations in this pristine area and the role of N in fuelling primary productivity, principally based on summer data. The N budget estimates on a whole-of-Gulf basis suggest that river N inputs are unlikely to be major contributors to primary productivity. In the deeper waters of the Gulf, beyond the coastal boundary current, the main source of N is estimated to be N fixation by cyanobacteria, principally the abundant genus Trichodesmium. The present study measured high N fixation rates and depleted δ15N–N ratios in the particulate matter in the water column during a summer bloom. During summer, bottom N concentrations increased and δ15N–N ratios were depleted, suggesting that benthic mineralisation is occurring. It is therefore likely that detrital material from N-rich Trichodesmium is an important contributor to benthic processes. During winter, wind-driven mixing results in N from the bottom waters reaching the euphotic zone, and fuelling primary productivity. Therefore, Trichodesmium has an important direct and indirect role in contributing to primary productivity in this pristine tropical ecosystem.

Keywords: nitrogen budget, nitrogen fixation, Trichodesmium.

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