The Distribution of Nutrients in the Costa Rica Dome in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean

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  • The Distribution of Nutrients in the Costa Rica Dome in the Eastern Tropical Pacific OceanAuthor(s): William W. BroenkowSource: Limnology and Oceanography, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Jan., 1965), pp. 40-52Published by: American Society of Limnology and OceanographyStable URL: .Accessed: 19/06/2014 18:26

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    William W. Broenkow United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Commercial Fisheries,

    Biological Laboratory, San Diego, California


    The distributions of salinity, dissolved oxygen, phosphate, nitrate, and silicate in the Costa Rica Dome are described from data collected during the Costa Rica Dome cruise November-December 1959. The dome is an area where nutrient-rich, oxygen-poor water is brought to the surface by upwelling.

    The ratios of change of oxygen, phosphate, and nitrate are computed statistically from the observed data to 1,100 m depth.

    A simple mixing model is used to explain the observed vertical distribution of oxygen above 65 m when allowances are made for photosynthetic oxygen production. The contri- butions of oxygen from various sources are estimated by use of the model. A similar model is used to compute the ratios in which nutrients are assimilated by phytoplankton.


    The Costa Rica Dome (Cromwell 1958) is an area approximately 400 km in diam- eter centered near 8? N lat, 890 W long, in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean where the isothermal surface layer is extremely shallow. Wyrtki (1964) has described the physical oceanography of this area on the basis of observations made during the Costa Rica Dome cruise, November- December 1959 (Scripps Institution of Oceanography 1960) (Fig. 1), and he has suggested a mechanism that maintains up- welling in the dome. His results are sum- marized below.

    The anticlinal thermal structure, or dome, is located at the eastern extremity of the thermal ridge that separates the North Equatorial Countercurrent from the North Equatorial Current. Wyrtki states that the dome may be caused by the northward de- flection of the countercurrent as it impinges on the coast of Central America, causing a redistribution of mass that is effected by divergence and crosscurrent flow. He has computed an average ascending veloc- ity within the dome of 10-6 m/sec and has estimated that the upwelling originates be- tween depths of 75 and 200 m. The north- ward transport across the eastern limb of the dome was about 20 x 106 m3/sec, whereas the vertical transport or upwelling was only 7 x 1O4 m3/sec. The dome has been observed several times and appears to

    be a permanent feature, although it may vary seasonally in magnitude and position.

    The upwelling had a pronounced effect on the distribution of properties at the sea surface (Figs. 2b, c, d). Surface manifesta- tions of the ascending motion were the higher salinities, lower oxygen contents, and higher nutrient concentrations in the sur- face water in the dome than in the sur- rounding surface waters.

    The author wishes to thank Mr. E. B. Bennett of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission for the many helpful criticisms and suggestions that he offered during this work. Dr. K. Wyrtki is grate- fully acknowledged for offering some of his illustrations for use in this paper. The Costa Rica Dome survey was conducted jointly by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.


    During the Costa Rica Dome cruise, 6 November through 14 December 1959, 50 hydrographic stations were occupied in the area of the dome (Fig. 1). At all stations, salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and inorganic phosphate were observed to at least 1,000 m. At 16 of these stations, inor- ganic nitrate, nitrite, and reactive silicate were observed. In addition, 8 shallow sta- tions were occupied, and 48 surface sam- Dles were taken in the vicinity of Cocos


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    120' li5? 110' 105'' 00' 95' 90' 85' 80'


    Son Diego Dome Survey

    COSTA RICA DOME 11 41 4 30'- CRUISE 0-230

    November 14 December 1959 '0 ' 0-3 0-1

    44 ~45

    25'- 26 353 25'

    7' C-4

    25 1~~~~~~~~~~~~~3 20'

    4 20'

    92' 91a 90? 89? 88? 87' 86' 85'

    87?10' 87'00' 869 0

    ;5- 0 6 8 58Q4 1 5o>\>g a

    5' o5e ;530'< < 57 0~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~0

    DOME SURVEY 5'30'


    5' .(-zCOCOS ISLAND i |

    50-1 51 o SURVEY 5'20'

    Cocos Island Survey

    1200 115 10' 05' 100' 95' 90' Be 90'

    FIG. 1. Track chart of Costa Rica Dome cruise, 9 November to 14 December 1959.

    Island, about 275 km south of the dome's center.

    Dissolved oxygen analyses were done by the Winkler method, and oxygen solubili- ties were based on the solubility data of Truesdale, Downing, and Lowden (1955). Inorganic phosphate concentrations were determined by the method described by Strickland and Parsons (1960), and temper- ature corrections were applied as described by Wooster and Rakestraw (1951). Samples for nitrate, nitrite, and silicate were frozen aboard ship and later analyzed ashore using methods described by Strickland and Parsons (1960). Productivity measurements were made using the C14 technique of Stee- mann Nielsen (1952).


    A characteristic of the eastern tropical Pacific is the shallow, mixed surface layer. It is only 20-30 m deep near the American coast and increases in depth to 50-70 m at 1300 W long (Wyrtki, in press). This shal- low thermocline is probably a consequence of a general ascending motion throughout the eastern tropical Pacific north of the equator that is caused by surface waters being driven westward by persistent north- east trade winds. Extremely high nutrient and low oxygen concentrations are found in the intermediate water in this area, dem- onstrating that this water has undergone chemical change due either to a long resi- dence or to an abundance of oxidizable ma-

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    92- 918 920 B 8 7 86 8 9 91 903 89_ 88 ___ - as,

    328 , _, 3333

    {~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~2 -33f _6

    . - _. . ._ _ ,340 ---- ._ __ _ 32.0

    I ~ 8 =I

    1. 20 > 340

    1A 8

    0 '


    x S 340 34 5 350

    ?2 1 0 20 3.0 40 50

    wPo43 0 10 20 30 40

    *N03 0 25 50

    . * 4 0 50 100 O - ,_ -.^


    100 / / ! !

    200 /

    H- 300

    z 400 PHOSPHATE'

    500 /* )XYGEN S 4 SILCATE

    1- 000 Sio 4

    FIG 4.Vria itiuino xgn hs



    800 m

    800 \ ~~~~~~~~~~~NITRATE\ 900 NO3


    1000 - 2

    FIG. 3. Vertical distribution of oxygen, phos- phate, nitrate, silicate, and salinity in the Costa Rica Dome (Station 18, 8i35t N lat, 88OOO1 W long). Oxygen in mi/liter, nutrients in ag-at./ liter, salinity in %0 .

    centration (Redfield 1942), was at about 800 m.

    The vertical distribution of nitrate shows the same general features as the phosphate distribution. The nitrate concentration was about 6 mg-at./liter at the surface and 29 /g-at./liter at 50 m. Maximum concentra- tions of about 50 kg-at./liter were found at the same depth as the phosphate maximum.

    The silicate concentration was about 3 ,~tg-at./Iiter at the surface and 20 ttg-at./liter at 50 m. Maximum observed silicate con- centrations were about 100 ttg-at./liter at 1,000 m.

    At 35 of the 50 stations in the dome, oxygen maxima and phosphate minima were found near the potential density surface sigma-t 26.25 g/liter (50 m in Fig. 3). Because the oxygen maxima and phosphate minima were not found at every station, and because double oxygen maxima were frequent, it is difficult to determine their origin. In the area of the dome, the oxygen maxima were always found between the

    potential density surfaces sigma-t= 26.0 and 26.5 g/liter, the layer in which Equa- torial Subsurface Water is found. Bennett's (1963) chart of the oxygen distribution on the potential density surface sigma-t = 26.23 g/liter (delta-t = 180 cl/ton) shows an area of relatively high oxygen content that lies along the equato