Evidence for production and lateral transport of dissolved organic phosphorus in the eastern subtropical North Atlantic

Sarah Reynolds, Claire Mahaffey, Vassil Roussenov, Richard G. Williams

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The concentration of phosphate and dissolved organic phosphorus (DOP) is chronically low and limits phytoplankton growth in the subtropical North Atlantic relative to other ocean basins. Transport of phosphate and DOP from the productive flanks of the gyre to its interior has been hypothesized as an important phosphorus supply pathway. During a cruise in the eastern Atlantic in spring 2011, the rates of phosphate uptake, alkaline phosphatase activity (APA), and DOP production were measured in the northwest African shelf region, subtropics, and tropics. Rates of DOP production were sixfold higher in the shelf region (43 ± 41 nM d−1) relative to the subtropics (6.9 ± 4.4 nM d−1). In contrast, APA was threefold higher in the subtropics (8.0 ± 7.3 nM d−1), indicative of enhanced DOP utilization, relative to the shelf region (2.6 ± 2.1 nM d−1). Hence, observations suggest net production of DOP in the shelf region and either net consumption of DOP or a near balance in DOP production and consumption in the gyre interior. Eddy-permitting model experiments demonstrate that (i) DOP accounts for over half the total phosphorus in surface waters, (ii) DOP is transported westward from the shelf region by a combination of gyre and eddy circulations, and (iii) advected DOP supports up to 70% of the particle export over much of the subtropical gyre. Our combined observational and modeling study supports the view that the horizontal transport of DOP from the shelf region is an important mechanism supplying phosphorus to the surface subtropical North Atlantic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)805-824
Number of pages20
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number8
Early online date12 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • RCUK
  • NERC
  • NE/G018782/1
  • phosphate
  • DOP
  • alkaline phosphatase
  • subtropical North Atlantic
  • nutrient transport


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