Recycled iron fuels new production in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean
Nitrate persists in eastern equatorial Pacific surface waters because phytoplankton growth fueled by nitrate (new production) is limited by iron. Nitrate isotope measurements provide a new constraint on the controls of surface nitrate concentration in this region and allow us to quantify the degree and temporal variability of nitrate consumption. Here we show that nitrate consumption in these waters cannot be fueled solely by the external supply of iron to these waters, which occurs by upwelling and dust deposition. Rather, a substantial fraction of nitrate consumption must be supported by the recycling of iron within surface waters. Given plausible iron recycling rates, seasonal variability in nitrate concentration on and off the equator can be explained by upwelling rate, with slower upwelling allowing for more cycles of iron regeneration and uptake. The efficiency of iron recycling in the equatorial Pacific implies the evolution of ecosystem-level mechanisms for retaining iron in surface ocean settings where it limits productivity. © 2017 The Author(s).