Deep Nitrate Deficit Observed in the Highly Oxygenated East/Japan Sea and Its Possible Cause


We present evidence of denitrification on the continental slopes of the Ulleung Basin (UB) and the Eastern Japan Basin (EJB) near the Tatar Strait (TtS) in the East/Japan Sea (EJS), despite its high water column dissolved oxygen concentrations. Some nutrient concentration data deviate significantly from the fitted regression line of nitrate (N) vs. phosphate (P) in deep waters, indicating a loss of nitrate in the region. The EJS has a lower N/P ratio (ca. 12.4 below 300 dbar) than a traditional Redfield ratio (16). The N/P ratio and oxygen concentration are substantially lower at several locations whose depths are close to the sediment-water interface, near TtS (500 - 1100 dbar) and in UB (1100 - 2200 dbar). The decreased nitrate concentration is smaller than the expected nitrate level (a low N/P ratio of < 12.4), and a secondary nitrite peak near the bottom of these two regions: taken collectively, both indicate the presence of denitrification in the bottom layer. It is speculated that active re-mineralization and denitrification may occur simultaneously along the rich organic matter bottom layer on the slope environment. Denitrification rates are estimated at ~3 - 33 μmol N m-2 d-1. Current estimates do not support the previous idea of basin-wide denitrification in EJS, although the N/P ratio is low like in other hypoxic/anoxic seas. A better understanding of the denitrification process is necessary for predicting future changes of nitrogen cycle in the well-oxygenated EJS considering the decadal-scale physical and biogeochemical changes that have occurred.

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