Forms of fixed nitrogen, such as nitrate, nitrite and ammonia, are influential nutrients in the ocean. Their availability controls both productivity (the amount of organic material available to support sea creatures) and the export of carbon from the surface ocean. The surface ocean is the first 100 metres of depth across the entire ocean, and is where the ocean meets the atmosphere and absorbs carbon dioxide. As one of the largest carbon dioxide sinks in our environment, it has a significant impact on our climate.
Scientists can use stable isotopes of fixed forms of nitrogen to understand the role and transformation of nutrients in the ocean. As Canada Research Chair in Ocean Chemistry, Dr. Carolyn Buchwald is exploring complex nitrogen cycle processes and their isotope systematics to improve biogeochemical models. She and her research team hope to improve our understanding of productivity, nutrient cycling and the carbon cycle in the ocean.