Impact of the Amazon River Plume on nitrogen availability and planktonic food web dynamics in the Western Tropical North Atlantic

Lead PI: Dr. Ajit Subramaniam

Unit Affiliation: Biology and Paleo Environment, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

January 2018 - December 2021
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: This is a focused program of field research in waters of the Western Tropical North Atlantic influenced by the Amazon River Plume during the high river flow season. The Amazon Plume region supports diverse plankton communities in a dynamic system driven by nutrients supplied by transport from the river proper as well as nutrients entrained from offshore waters by physical mixing and upwelling. This creates strong interactions among physical, chemical, and biological processes across a range of spatial and temporal scales. The field program will link direct measurements of environmental properties with focused experimental studies of nutrient supply and nutrient limitation of phytoplankton, as well as the transfer of phytoplankton nitrogen to the zooplankton food web. The Amazon Plume exhibits a close juxtaposition of distinct communities during the high-flow season, making it an ideal site for evaluating how nutrient availability, nutrient supply, and habitat longevity interact to drive offshore ecosystem dynamics and function. This project will include German collaborators and will seamlessly integrate education and research efforts. The investigators and their institutions have a strong commitment to undergraduate and graduate education and to increasing the diversity of the ocean science community through active recruiting and training efforts. The team has a strong track record of involving both undergraduate and graduate students in their field and lab research. The two research cruises planned will provide opportunities for students and technicians to interact with an interdisciplinary and international research team.

The ultimate objectives of this project are to understand the processes and interactions that promote distinct communities of nitrogen-fixing organisms (diazotrophs) and other phytoplankton around the Amazon Plume and to explore the impacts of these diazotroph-rich communities on zooplankton biomass and production. The research team includes scientists with expertise in nutrient and stable isotope biogeochemistry, remote sensing as well as specialists in characterizing water mass origin and history using naturally occurring radium isotopes. This combination of approaches will provide a unique opportunity to address fundamental questions related to plankton community structure, primary production, and links to secondary production in pelagic ecosystems.