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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rhiannon L. Mather et al., Phosphorus cycling in the North and South Atlantic Ocean subtropical gyres

Letter abstract

Nature Geoscience 1, 439 - 443 (2008); Published online: 22 June 2008 | doi:10.1038/ngeo232

Subject Category: Oceanography

Phosphorus cycling in the North and South Atlantic Ocean subtropical gyres

Rhiannon L. Mather1, Sarah E. Reynolds1,4, George A. Wolff1, Richard G. Williams1, Sinhue Torres-Valdes2, E. Malcolm S. Woodward3, Angela Landolfi2,4, Xi Pan2, Richard Sanders2 & Eric P. Achterberg2

Despite similar physical properties, the Northern and Southern Atlantic subtropical gyres have different biogeochemical regimes. The Northern subtropical gyre, which is subject to iron deposition from Saharan dust1, is depleted in the nutrient phosphate, possibly as a result of iron-enhanced nitrogen fixation2. Although phosphate depleted, rates of carbon fixation in the euphotic zone of the North Atlantic subtropical gyre are comparable to those of the South Atlantic subtropical gyre3, which is not phosphate limited. Here we use the activity of the phosphorus-specific enzyme alkaline phosphatase to show potentially enhanced utilization of dissolved organic phosphorus occurring over much of the North Atlantic subtropical gyre. We find that during the boreal spring up to 30% of primary production in the North Atlantic gyre is supported by dissolved organic phosphorus. Our diagnostics and composite map of the surface distribution of dissolved organic phosphorus in the subtropical Atlantic Ocean reveal shorter residence times in the North Atlantic gyre than the South Atlantic gyre. We interpret the asymmetry of dissolved organic phosphorus cycling in the two gyres as a consequence of enhanced nitrogen fixation in the North Atlantic Ocean4, which forces the system towards phosphorus limitation. We suggest that dissolved organic phosphorus utilization may contribute to primary production in other phosphorus-limited ocean settings as well.

  1. Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Liverpool, 4 Brownlow Street, Liverpool, L69 3GP, UK
  2. National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton Waterfront Campus, European Way, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK
  3. Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Prospect Place, The Hoe, Plymouth, PL1 3DH, UK
  4. Present address: Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Old Dominion University, 4600 Elkhorn Avenue, Norfolk, VA, USA (S.E.R.); Leibniz-Institut für Meereswissenschaften, Marine Biogeochemical Modelling, Düsternbrooker Weg 20, D-24105 Kiel, Germany (A.L.)

Correspondence to: George A. Wolff1; e-mail:

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