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  1. Abstract

    The wind-driven meridional overturning circulation between the tropical and subtropical oceans is important for regulating decadal-scale temperature fluctuations in the Pacific Ocean and globally. An acceleration of the overturning circulation can act to reduce global surface temperature as ocean stores more heat. The equatorward low-latitude western boundary current represents a key component of the meridional circulation cell in the Pacific and a major source of water mass for the Equatorial Undercurrent, yet long-term observations of its transport are scarce. Here we demonstrate that the15N/14N ratio recorded byPoritesspp. corals in the western tropical South Pacific is sensitive to the exchanges of water masses driven by the western boundary transport. Using a 94-year coral record from the Solomon Sea, we report that the15N/14N ratio declined as the global surface temperature rose. The record suggests that the South Pacific western boundary current has strengthened in the past century, and it may have contributed to the reported strengthening of the Equatorial Undercurrent. In addition, the15N/14N record shows strong decadal variability, indicative of weaker equatorial Pacific upwelling and stronger western boundary transport when the eastern equatorial Pacific is in the warm stage of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

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  2. Human alteration of the global nitrogen cycle intensified over the 1900s. Model simulations suggest that large swaths of the open ocean, including the North Atlantic and the western Pacific, have already been affected by anthropogenic nitrogen through atmospheric transport and deposition. Here we report an ∼130-year-long record of the15N/14N of skeleton-bound organic matter in a coral from the outer reef of Bermuda, which provides a test of the hypothesis that anthropogenic atmospheric nitrogen has significantly augmented the nitrogen supply to the open North Atlantic surface ocean. The Bermuda15N/14N record does not show a long-term decline in the Anthropocene of the amplitude predicted by model simulations or observed in a western Pacific coral15N/14N record. Rather, the decadal variations in the Bermuda15N/14N record appear to be driven by the North Atlantic Oscillation, most likely through changes in the formation rate of Subtropical Mode Water. Given that anthropogenic nitrogen emissions have been decreasing in North America since the 1990s, this study suggests that in the coming decades, the open North Atlantic will remain minimally affected by anthropogenic nitrogen deposition.

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  3. Abstract

    Dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) is the dominant form of fixed nitrogen in most low and middle latitude ocean surface waters. Here, we report measurements of DON isotopic composition (δ15N) from the west South China Sea (SCS), with the goal of providing new insight into DON cycling. The concentration of DON in the surface ocean is correlated (r = 0.70,p < 0.0001) with chlorophyllaconcentration, indicating DON production in these surface waters. The concentration and δ15N of DON fall in a relatively narrow range in the surface ocean (4.6 ± 0.1 μM and 4.3 ± 0.2‰ vs. air, respectively; ±SD), similar to other ocean regions. The mean DON δ15N above 50 m (4.5 ± 0.3‰) is similar to the δ15N of nitrate in the “shallow subsurface” (i.e., immediately below the euphotic zone; 4.6 ± 0.2‰) but is higher than the δ15N of suspended particles in the surface ocean (~2.3‰). This set of isotopic relationships has been observed previously (e.g., in the oligotrophic North Atlantic and North Pacific) and can be explained by the cycling of N between particulate organic nitrogen (PON), DON, and ammonium, in which an isotope effect associated with DON degradation preferentially concentrates15N in DON. Consistent with this view, a negative correlation (r = 0.70) between the concentration and the δ15N of DON is observed in the upper 75 m, suggesting an isotope effect of ~4.9 ± 0.4‰ for DON degradation. Comparing the DON δ15N data from the SCS with other regions, we find that the δ15N difference between euphotic zone DON and shallow subsurface nitrate δ15N (Δδ15N(DON‐NO3)) rises from ocean regions of inferred net DON production to regions of net DON consumption, with the SCS representing an intermediate case.

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  4. Abstract

    Bulk sediment δ15N records from the eastern tropical Pacific (ETP) extending back to the last ice age most often show low glacial δ15N, then a deglacial δ15N maximum, followed by a gradual decline to a late Holocene δ15N that is typically higher than that of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). The lower δ15N of the LGM has been interpreted to reflect an ice age reduction in water column denitrification. We report foraminifera shell‐bound nitrogen isotope (FB‐δ15N) measurements for the two speciesNeogloboquadrina dutertreiandNeogloboquadrina incomptaover the last 35 ka in two sediment cores from the eastern equatorial Pacific (EEP), both of which have the typical LGM‐to‐Holocene increase in bulk sediment δ15N. FB‐δ15N contrasts with bulk sediment δ15N by not indicating a lower δ15N during the LGM. Instead, the FB‐δ15N records are dominated by a deglacial δ15N maximum, with comparable LGM and Holocene values. The lower LGM δ15N of the bulk sediment records may be an artifact, possibly related to greater exogenous N inputs and/or weaker sedimentary diagenesis during the LGM. The new data raise the possibility that the previously inferred glacial reduction in ETP water column denitrification was incorrect. A review of reconstructed ice age conditions and geochemical box model output provides mechanistic support for this possibility. However, equatorial ocean circulation and nitrate‐rich surface water overlying both core sites allow for other possible interpretations, calling for replication at non‐equatorial ETP sites.

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