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Comparison of 14C and O2 measurements of phytoplankton production in oligotrophic waters


Present day estimates of primary phytoplankton production are derived almost exclusively from the results of a single method, the 14C technique. 14C methodology is amenable to routine measurement and also has the requisite sensitivity for the large expanses of ocean characterized by low autotrophic biomass. However, there is still great uncertainty as to its ecological interpretations; for example, whether it is measuring net or gross primary production. We report here the first comparison of planktonic photosynthesis based on 14C assimilation with measurements of oxygen flux for an oligotrophic environment of ocean character. We conclude from the results that there is no evidence of persistent errors of any size, unique to the 14C technique, in the measurement of gross production. We also infer, from a consideration of the rates themselves, that in vitro methodology is not biased with respect to in situ photosynthesis.

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Williams, P., Heinemann, K., Marra, J. et al. Comparison of 14C and O2 measurements of phytoplankton production in oligotrophic waters. Nature 305, 49–50 (1983).

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