Microbial feedbacks optimize ocean iron availability.


Jonathan Maitland Lauderdale


Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139; [Email]


Iron is the limiting factor for biological production over a large fraction of the surface ocean because free iron is rapidly scavenged or precipitated under aerobic conditions. Standing stocks of dissolved iron are maintained by association with organic molecules (ligands) produced by biological processes. We hypothesize a positive feedback between iron cycling, microbial activity, and ligand abundance: External iron input fuels microbial production, creating organic ligands that support more iron in seawater, leading to further macronutrient consumption until other microbial requirements such as macronutrients or light become limiting, and additional iron no longer increases productivity. This feedback emerges in numerical simulations of the coupled marine cycles of macronutrients and iron that resolve the dynamic microbial production and loss of iron-chelating ligands. The model solutions resemble modern nutrient distributions only over a finite range of prescribed ligand source/sink ratios where the model ocean is driven to global-scale colimitation by micronutrients and macronutrients and global production is maximized. We hypothesize that a global-scale selection for microbial ligand cycling may have occurred to maintain "just enough" iron in the ocean.


colimitation,dissolved iron,macronutrients,ocean productivity,organic ligands,

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