Article révisé par les pairs
Résumé : The natural isotopic composition of suspended particulate organic nitrogen was determined in the Southern Bight of the North Sea and in the Scheldt estuary. These data show that δ15N constitutes a convenient tracer of the origin of the suspended matter. In the winter, in the absence of intensive primary production, the suspended organic matter of the Scheldt estuary is a mixture of two components: a continental detrital component characterized by a low δ value of 1.5%. and a marine component with a mean δ value of 8%.. During the phytoplankton flowering period, lasting from early May to October, intensive primary production occurs throughout the estuary giving rise to a third source of organic matter. This material is characterized by high δ values reflecting the isotopic composition of ammonia, the nitrogenous nutrient assimilated by phytoplankton in the estuary. The nitrification process occuring in the mixing area of the Scheldt estuary leads to higher downstream δ values of ammonia (>20%.) which permits the distinction between estuarine from fresh-water phytoplankton. Simple isotopic budget calculations show that, both in the upstream part and in the downstream part, autochthonous phytoplanktonic material contributes a major part of the total suspended matter in the Scheldt estuary during summer.