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The shelf-to-basin transport of iron from the Northern U.S West Coast to the Pacific Ocean
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  • Anh Le-Duy Pham,
  • Pierre Damien,
  • Daniel Edward McCoy,
  • Matthew Mar,
  • Faycal Kessouri,
  • James C. McWilliams,
  • James W Moffett,
  • Daniele Bianchi
Anh Le-Duy Pham
Georgia Institute of Technology

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Pierre Damien
University of California Los Angeles
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Daniel Edward McCoy
University of California Los Angeles
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Matthew Mar
University of California, Los Angeles
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Faycal Kessouri
Southern California Coastal Water Research Project
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James C. McWilliams
University of California Los Angeles
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James W Moffett
University of Southern California
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Daniele Bianchi
University of California Los Angeles
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Release of iron (Fe) from continental shelves is a major source of this limiting nutrient for phytoplankton in the open ocean, including productive Eastern Boundary Upwelling Systems. The mechanisms governing the transport and fate of Fe along continental margins remain poorly understood, reflecting interaction of physical and biogeochemical processes that are crudely represented by global ocean biogeochemical models. Here, we use a submesoscale-permitting physical-biogeochemical model to investigate processes governing the delivery of shelf-derived Fe to the open ocean along the northern U.S. West Coast. We find that a significant fraction (∼20%) of the Fe released by sediments on the shelf is transported offshore, fertilizing the broader Northeast Pacific Ocean. This transport is governed by two main pathways that reflect interaction between the wind-driven ocean circulation and Fe release by low-oxygen sediments: the first in the surface boundary layer during upwelling events; the second in the bottom boundary layer, associated with pervasive interactions of the poleward California Undercurrent with bottom topography. In the water column interior, transient and standing eddies strengthen offshore transport, counteracting the onshore pull of the mean upwelling circulation. Several hot-spots of intense Fe delivery to the open ocean are maintained by standing meanders in the mean current and enhanced by transient eddies and seasonal oxygen depletion. Our results highlight the importance of fine-scale dynamics for the transport of Fe and shelf-derived elements from continental margins to the open ocean, and the need to improve representation of these processes in biogeochemical models used for climate studies.