Impacts of atmospheric nutrient deposition on marine productivity: Roles of nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron

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Okin G. S., Baker A. R., Tegen I., Mahowald N. M., Dentener F. J., Duce R. A., ...More

GLOBAL BIOGEOCHEMICAL CYCLES, vol.25, 2011 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 25
  • Publication Date: 2011
  • Doi Number: 10.1029/2010gb003858
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: Yes


Nutrients are supplied to the mixed layer of the open ocean by either atmospheric deposition or mixing from deeper waters, and these nutrients drive nitrogen and carbon fixation. To evaluate the importance of atmospheric deposition, we estimate marine nitrogen and carbon fixation from present-day simulations of atmospheric deposition of nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron. These are compared with observed rates of marine nitrogen and carbon fixation. We find that Fe deposition is more important than P deposition in supporting N fixation. Estimated rates of atmospherically supported carbon fixation are considerably lower than rates of marine carbon fixation derived from remote sensing, indicating the subsidiary role atmospheric deposition plays in total C uptake by the oceans. Nonetheless, in high-nutrient, low-chlorophyll areas, the contribution of atmospheric deposition of Fe to the surface ocean could account for about 50% of C fixation. In marine areas typically thought to be N limited, potential C fixation supported by atmospheric deposition of N is only similar to 1%-2% of observed rates. Although these systems are N-limited, the amount of N supplied from below appears to be much larger than that deposited from above. Atmospheric deposition of Fe has the potential to augment atmospherically supported rates of C fixation in N-limited areas. In these areas, atmospheric Fe relieves the Fe limitation of diazotrophic organisms, thus contributing to the rate of N fixation. The most important uncertainties in understanding the relative importance of different atmospheric nutrients are poorly understood speciation and solubility of Fe as well as the N: Fe ratio of diazotrophic organisms.