Decoupling of Iron and Phosphate in the Global Ocean

Payal Parekh, Ph.D., 2003
John Marshall, Ed Boyle, Advisors

Iron is an essential micronutrient for marine phytoplankton, limiting their growth in high nutrient, low chlorophyll regions of the ocean. I use a hierarchy of ocean circulation and biogeochemistry models to understand controls on global iron distribution.

I formulate a mechanistic model of iron cycling which includes scavenging onto sinking particles and complexation with an organic ligand. The iron cycle is coupled to a phosphorus cycling model. Iron's aeolian source is prescribed. In the context of a highly idealized multi-box model scheme, the model can be brought into consistency with the relatively sparse ocean observations of iron in the oceans.

This biogeochemical scheme is also implemented in a coarse resolution ocean general circulation model. This model also successfully reproduces the broad regional patterns of iron and phosphorus. In particular, the high macronutrient concentrations of the Southern Ocean result from iron limitation in the model.

Due to the potential ability of iron to change the efficiency of the carbon pump in the remote Southern Ocean, I study Southern Ocean surface phosphate response to increased aeolian dust flux. My box model and GCM results suggest that a global ten fold increase in dust flux can support a phosphate drawdown of 0.25-0.5 micromolar.