Marine N2 fixation supports a significant portion of oceanic primary production by making N2 bioavailable to planktonic communities, in the process influencing atmosphere-ocean carbon fluxes and our global climate. However, the geographical distribution and controlling factors of marine N2 fixation remain elusive largely due to sparse observations. Here we present unprecedented high-resolution underway N2 fixation estimates across over 6,000 kilometers of the western North Atlantic. Unexpectedly, we find increasing N2 fixation rates from the oligotrophic Sargasso Sea to North America coastal waters, driven primarily by cyanobacterial diazotrophs. N2 fixation is best correlated to phosphorus availability and chlorophyll-a concentration. Globally, intense N2 fixation activity in the coastal oceans is validated by a meta-analysis of published observations and we estimate the annual coastal N2 fixation flux to be 16.7 Tg N. This study broadens the biogeography of N2 fixation, highlights the interplay of regulating factors, and reveals thriving diazotrophic communities in coastal waters with potential significance to the global nitrogen cycle.

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