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Carbon dioxide limitation of marine phytoplankton growth rates


THE supply of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) is not considered to limit oceanic primary productivity1, as its concentration in sea water exceeds that of other plant macronutrients such as nitrate and phosphate by two and three orders of magnitude, respectively. But the bulk of oceanic new production2 and a major fraction of vertical carbon flux is mediated by a few diatom genera whose ability to use DIG components other than CO2, which comprises < 1% of total DIC3, is unknown4. Here we show that under optimal light and nutrient conditions, diatom growth rate can in fact be limited by the supply of CO2. The doubling in surface water pCO2 levels since the last glaciation from 180 to 355 p.p.m.5,6 could therefore have stimulated marine productivity, thereby increasing oceanic carbon sequestration by the biological pump.

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Riebesell, U., Wolf-Gladrow, D. & Smetacek, V. Carbon dioxide limitation of marine phytoplankton growth rates. Nature 361, 249–251 (1993).

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