The integral role of iron in ocean biogeochemistry


The micronutrient iron is now recognized to be important in regulating the magnitude and dynamics of ocean primary productivity, making it an integral component of the ocean’s biogeochemical cycles. In this Review, we discuss how a recent increase in observational data for this trace metal has challenged the prevailing view of the ocean iron cycle. Instead of focusing on dust as the major iron source and emphasizing iron’s tight biogeochemical coupling to major nutrients, a more complex and diverse picture of the sources of iron, its cycling processes and intricate linkages with the ocean carbon and nitrogen cycles has emerged.

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Figure 1: A schematic representation of the first view of the processes governing the ocean iron cycle.
Figure 2: A revised representation of the major processes in the ocean iron cycle, with emphasis on the Atlantic Ocean.
Figure 3: Observations from a meridional section in the west Atlantic Ocean as a function of latitude and depth.
Figure 4: Processes controlling the oceanic distribution of iron.


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A.T. acknowledges support from Natural Environment Research Council (NE/N0010791 and NE/N009525/1) and the Royal Society. A.R.B. acknowledges support from the Australian Research Council (FT130100037 and DP150100345) and the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre. P.W.B. acknowledges support from the Australian Research Council (Laureate Fellowship FL160100131). K.N.B. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation (OCE-1446327 and PLR-1443483). K.S.J. acknowledges support by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. M.A.S. acknowledges support from National Science Foundation (NSF-1435-556) and the Gordon Betty Moore Foundation (3782).

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This review article was originated by A.T., who led the writing of the manuscript. All co-authors contributed to the ideas and the writing of the review.

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Correspondence to Alessandro Tagliabue.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Reviewer Information Nature thanks K. Misumi, M. Moore and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Tagliabue, A., Bowie, A., Boyd, P. et al. The integral role of iron in ocean biogeochemistry. Nature 543, 51–59 (2017).

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