Iron-stimulated changes in 13C fractionation and export by equatorial Pacific phytoplankton: Toward a paleogrowth rate proxy


  • Robert R. Bidigare,

  • Kristi L. Hanson,

  • Ken O. Buesseler,

  • Stuart G. Wakeham,

  • Katherine H. Freeman,

  • Rich D. Pancost,

  • Frank J. Millero,

  • Paul Steinberg,

  • Brian N. Popp,

  • Mikel Latasa,

  • Michael R. Landry,

  • Edward A. Laws


We present δ13C values for phytol, an algal biomarker, which document up to 7 per mil isotopic enrichment during the IronEx II iron fertilization experiment. We evaluate these data using a laboratory-derived 13C fractionation model and show this variability is largely the result of elevated growth rates. Isotopic enrichment and stimulation of growth rate were accompanied by a sevenfold increase in the export of particulate organic carbon as estimated from 234Th activities. This is the first direct evidence that enhanced productivity following iron enrichment can lead to both increased export of organic matter and an associated isotopic signal in an algal biomarker. On the basis of these results, we propose biomarker isotopic data be used in conjunction with paleo-CO2 records to reconstruct paleogrowth rates. This approach provides a means to test for iron-stimulated changes in algal growth in sedimentary records.