Nitrogen dynamics in the Irish Sea and adjacent shelf waters: An exploration of dissolved organic nitrogen

Grigorios Moschonas, Richard J. Gowen, Brian M. Stewart, Keith Davidson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Relatively little is known about dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) in the marine environment because research has historically focused on dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN). In this study we combine measurements of dissolved organic matter (DOM), DIN, particulate organic nitrogen (PON), dissolved inorganic phosphorus (DIP) and silicon (DIS), with temperature and salinity data from the western shelf region of the UK and Ireland, and with inorganic and organic nitrogen (N) data from the western Irish Sea to develop an understanding of N dynamics in the Irish Sea and adjacent shelf waters, and investigate the role of DON in the nitrogen budget of the seasonally stratifying western Irish Sea. In January 2013, the sampling area was divided by density fronts into 4 regions of distinct oceanography and homogeneous chemistry. DON concentrations accounted for 25.3 ± 1.8% of total dissolved N (TDN) across all regions. DOM concentrations generally decreased from the freshwater influenced water of Liverpool Bay to the oceanic waters of the Celtic Sea and Malin Shelf. Urea and dissolved free amino acids (DFAA) together made up 27.3 ± 3.1% of DON. Estimated concentrations in the rivers discharging into Liverpool Bay were 8.0 and 2.1 μmol N L−1 respectively: at the high end of reported riverine concentrations. Oceanic nutrient inputs to the Irish Sea only have a small influence on N concentrations. Riverine N inputs to the Irish Sea are substantial but are likely removed by natural N cycling processes. In the western Irish Sea, DON and PON concentrations reached maxima and minima in midsummer and early spring respectively. DIN followed the opposite trend. DON accounted for 38% of the yearly internal N cycling and we estimated that as much as 1.4 ± 1.2 μmol N L−1 of labile DON was available as an N source at the start of the spring bloom. Our study supports the view that DON plays an important role in N cycling in temperate shelf and coastal seas and should be included more often in biogeochemical measurements if we are to have a complete understanding of N dynamics in a changing world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-287
Number of pages11
JournalEstuarine Coastal and Shelf Science
Early online date29 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2015


  • Dissolved organic nitrogen
  • Urea
  • DFAA
  • Nutrients
  • Nitrogen cycle
  • Sea
  • Celtic Sea
  • Malin Shelf
  • Liverpool Bay


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