U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights


Latitudinal Patterns Unveiled in Elemental Ratios of Marine Plankton
Published: March 17, 2013
Posted: June 20, 2013

Nearly 75 years ago, Alfred C. Redfield observed a similarity between the elemental composition of marine plankton in the surface ocean and dissolved nutrients in the ocean interior. This stoichiometry among carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) continues to be a central tenet in ocean biogeochemistry and is used to infer a variety of ecosystem processes, such as phytoplankton productivity and rates of nitrogen fixation and loss. Over the years, however, model, field, and laboratory studies have shown that different mechanisms can explain both constant and variable ratios of C to N and P among ocean plankton communities. The range of C/N/P ratios in the ocean and their predictability are the subject of much active research. In a recent study, partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research, global patterns in the elemental composition of phytoplankton and particulate organic matter in the upper ocean were assessed using published and unpublished observations of particulate P, N, and C from a broad latitudinal range, supplemented with elemental data for surface plankton populations. The authors showed that the elemental ratios of marine organic matter exhibit large spatial variations, with a global average that differs substantially from the canonical Redfield value. Moreover, elemental ratios exhibit a clear latitudinal trend. Specifically, a ratio of 195:28:1 is observed in the warm, nutrient-depleted low-latitude gyres; a ratio of 137:18:1 in warm, nutrient-rich upwelling zones; and a ratio of 78:13:1 in cold, nutrient-rich high-latitude regions. Thus, it appears that the coupling between oceanic C, N, and P cycles may vary systematically by ecosystem, which, in turn, is reflected in these observed latitudinal tendencies.

Reference: Martiny, A. C., C. T. A. Pham, F. W. Primeau, J. A. Vrugt, J. K. Moore, S. A. Levin, and M. W. Lomas. 2013. “Strong Latitudinal Patterns in the Elemental Ratios of Marine Plankton and Organic Matter,” Nature Geoscience 6, 279–83. DOI: 10.1038/ngeo1757. (Reference link)

Contact: Dorothy Koch, SC-23.1, (301) 903-0105
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling
  • Research Area: Carbon Cycle, Nutrient Cycling

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER

 

BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)