Phosphorus cycling in the North and South Atlantic Ocean subtropical gyres

Rhiannon L. Mather, Sarah Reynolds, George A. Wolff, Richard G. Williams, Sinhue Torres-Valdes, E. Malcolm S. Woodward, Angela Landolfi, Xi Pan, Richard J. Sanders, Eric P. Achterberg

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    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.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)439-443
    JournalNature Geoscience
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2008


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