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The relative influences of nitrogen and phosphorus on oceanic primary production


A simple model has the potential to resolve the long-running debate amongst oceanographers over whether nitrogen or phosphorus exerts overall control on oceanic primary production. A representation of the competition between nitrogen-fixing and other phytoplankton is inserted into a two-box global model of the oceanic nitrogen and phosphorus cycles. Homeostatic regulation of both nitrate and phosphate concentrations results, with surface waters more deficient in nitrate than phosphate in the steady state, but with external phosphate inputs controlling longer-term primary production in the global ocean.

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Figure 1: [NO3] versus [PO43−] scatter plot from GEOSECS global data set9.
Figure 2: Structure of model.
Figure 3: Nutrient limitation of the two phytoplankton groups in the model.
Figure 4: Results of model runs.


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I thank E. Marañón, T. Lenton, A. Martin, D. Wolf-Gladrow, T. Anderson, H.Nanninga, J. Shepherd, P. Holligan, P. Herman, W. Stolte, C. Zonneveld, A. Taylor, A. Watson, L. Partridge, W. Barkmann, S. Smith and R. Toggweiler for discussions and comments on the manuscript, and A. Brice for assistance with computing.

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Tyrrell, T. The relative influences of nitrogen and phosphorus on oceanic primary production. Nature 400, 525–531 (1999).

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