African Journal of Marine Science

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Wintertime rates of net primary production and nitrate and ammonium uptake in the southern Benguela upwelling system

RF Flynn, JM Burger, K Pillay, SE Fawcett


The elevated levels of primary productivity associated with eastern boundary currents are driven by nutrientrich waters upwelled from depth, such that these regions are typically characterised by high rates of nitrate-fuelled phytoplankton growth. Production studies from the southern Benguela upwelling system (SBUS) tend to be biased towards the summer upwelling season, yet winter data are required to compute annual budgets and understand seasonal variability. Net primary production (NPP) and nitrate and ammonium uptake were measured concurrently at six stations in the SBUS in early winter. While euphotic zone NPP was highest at the stations nearest to the coast and declined with distance from the shore, a greater proportion was potentially exportable from open-ocean surface waters, as indicated by the higher specific nitrate uptake rates and f-ratios (ratio of nitrate uptake to total nitrogen consumption) at the stations located off the continental shelf. Near the coast, phytoplankton growth was predominantly supported by ammonium despite the high ambient nitrate concentrations. Along with ammonium concentrations as high as 3.6 μmol l–1, this strongly suggests that nitrate uptake in the inshore SBUS, and by extension carbon drawdown, is inhibited by ammonium, at least in winter, although this has also been hypothesised for the summer.

Keywords: ammonium inhibition, carbon export potential, nitrogen cycle, seasonal variability, South Atlantic, stable isotope tracer experiment
AJOL African Journals Online