Influence of open ocean nitrogen supply on the skeletal δ15N of modern shallow-water scleractinian corals

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Journal Article
The isotopic composition of skeleton-bound organic nitrogen in shallow-water scleractinian corals (hereafter, CS-δ15N) is an emerging tool for studying the marine nitrogen cycle in the past. The CS-δ15N has been shown to reflect the δ15N of nitrogen (N) sources to corals, with most applications to date focusing on the anthropogenic/terrestrial N inputs to reef environments. However, many coral reefs receive their primary N sources from the open ocean, and the CS-δ15N of these corals may provide information on past changes in the open ocean regional and global N cycle. Using a recently developed persulfate/denitrifier-based method, we measured CS-δ15N in modern shallow-water scleractinian corals from 8 sites proximal to the open ocean. At sites with low open ocean surface nitrate concentrations typical of the subtropics and tropics, measured CS-δ15N variation on seasonal and annual timescales is most often less than 2‰. In contrast, a broad range in CS-δ15N (of 10‰) is measured across these sites, with a strong correlation between CS-δ15N and the δ15N of the deep nitrate supply to the surface waters near the reefs. While CS-δ15N can be affected by other N sources as well and can vary in response to local reef conditions as well as coral/symbiont physiological changes, this survey indicates that, when considering corals proximal to the open ocean, the δ15N of the subsurface nitrate supply to surface waters drives most of the CS-δ15N variation across the global ocean. Thus, CS-δ15N is a promising proxy for reconstructing the open ocean N cycle in the past. © 2016 Elsevier B.V.
Earth and Planetary Science Letters