Nitrogen and carbon uptake dynamics in Lake Superior

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Despite a fivefold rise in nitrate concentration over the last century, many fundamental aspects of Lake Superior's N and C cycles are still very poorly understood. We present here the first measurements of inorganic N uptake and in situ C uptake rates in Lake Superior, one of the largest lakes in the world. A profile of C uptake suggests that more than 95% of production occurs in the top 30 m with highest productivity to biomass ratio in the epilimnion. High C uptake:N uptake and particulate C: N ratio compared to the Redfield ratio (6.6) in the epilimnion suggests higher turnover rate of C compared to N in epilimnetic particles. Experiments performed over a range of typical environmental conditions suggest a strong temperature dependence of N uptake with maximum rates observed during the warmest stratified period. Lakewide N uptake estimates derived from a temperature-based model suggest that on an annual basis, uptake is considerably higher than total N inputs from outside the lake. This difference indicates that the lake is recycling N rapidly, leading to a shorter turnover time in the water column than previously assumed. The long-term buildup of nitrate in the lake has been hypothesized to arise from limited assimilation of nitrate entering the lake. In contrast, our results suggest that nitrate accumulating in the lake is a result of internal N cycling, a finding consistent with recent studies based on a nitrogen budget and NO3- stable isotope analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberG04003
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 28 2008


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