Articles | Volume 6, issue 2
04 Jun 2010
 | 04 Jun 2010

The role of continental shelves in nitrogen and carbon cycling: Northwestern North Atlantic case study

K. Fennel

Abstract. Continental shelves play a key role in the cycling of nitrogen and carbon. Here the physical transport and biogeochemical transformation processes affecting the fluxes into and out of continental shelf systems are reviewed, and their role in the global cycling of both elements is discussed. Uncertainties in the magnitude of organic and inorganic matter exchange between shelves and the open ocean is a major source of uncertainty in observation-based estimates of nitrogen and carbon fluxes. The shelf-open ocean exchange is hard to quantify based on observations alone, but can be inferred from biogeochemical models. Model-based nitrogen and carbon budgets are presented for the Northwestern North Atlantic continental shelf. Results indicate that shelves are an important sink for fixed nitrogen and a source of alkalinity, but are not much more efficient in exporting organic carbon to the deep ocean than the adjacent open ocean for the shelf region considered.