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Iron deficiency limits phytoplankton growth in the north-east Pacific subarctic


An interesting oceanographic problem concerns the excess major plant nutrients (PO4, NO3, SiO3) occurring in offshore surface waters of the Antarctic1–3 and north-east Pacific subarctic Oceans4. In a previous study5, we presented indirect evidence suggesting that inadequate Fe input was responsible for this limitation of growth; recently we had the opportunity to seek direct evidence for this hypothesis in the north-east Pacific subarctic. We report here that the addition of nmol amounts of dissolved iron resulted in the nearly complete utilization of excess NO3, whereas in the controls—without added Fe—only 25% of the available NO3 was used. We also observed that the amounts of chlorophyll in the phytoplankton increased in proportion to the Fe added. We conclude that Fe deficiency is limiting phytoplankton growth in these major-nutrient-rich waters.

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Martin, J., Fitzwater, S. Iron deficiency limits phytoplankton growth in the north-east Pacific subarctic. Nature 331, 341–343 (1988).

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