Airborne Microbes Contribute to N2 Fixation in Surface Water of the Northern Red Sea

Eyal Rahav, Adina Paytan, Esra Mescioglu, Yuri Galletti, Sahar Rosenfeld, Ofrat Raveh, Chiara Santinelli, Tung Yuan Ho, Barak Herut

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Desert dust storms are frequent in the Northern Red Sea region, providing nutrients (i.e., PO4) and trace-metals (i.e., Fe) that may stimulate dinitrogen (N2) fixation. Dust also carries a high diversity of airborne microbes (bacteria and archaea), including diazotrophs, that may remain viable during transport and upon deposition. Here we evaluate the impact of atmospheric deposition and its associated airborne diazotrophs on N2 fixation in the surface water of the low-nutrient Northern Red Sea, using mesocosm bioassay experiments. We compared the chemical (nutritional) and sole airborne microbial impact of aerosol additions on N2 fixation using “live-dust” (release nutrients/trace metals and viable airborne microorganisms) and “UV-killed dust” (release only chemicals). Airborne diazotrophy accounted for about one third of the measured N2 fixation (0.35 ± 0.06 nmol N · L−1 · day−1 and 0.29 ± 0.06 nmol N · L−1 · day−1, for “February 2017” and “May 2017,” “live-dust” additions, respectively). Two nifH sequences related to cluster III diazotrophs were amplified from the dust samples, consistent with the N2 fixation measurement results. We postulate that the deposition of viable airborne diazotrophs may enhance N2 fixation, especially in marine provinces subjected to high aerosol loads. We speculate that the relative contribution of airborne N2 fixation may increase in the future with the predicted increase in dust deposition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6186-6194
Number of pages9
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number12
StatePublished - 28 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
©2018. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


  • N fixation
  • Northern Red Sea
  • aerosols
  • airborne diazotrophs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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