Benthic phosphorus regeneration, net primary production, and ocean anoxia: A model of the coupled marine biogeochemical cycles of carbon and phosphorus


  • Philippe Van Cappellen,

  • Ellery D. Ingall


We examine the relationships between ocean ventilation, primary production, water column anoxia, and benthic regeneration of phosphorus using a mass balance model of the coupled marine biogeochemical cycles of carbon (C) and phosphorus (P). The elemental cycles are coupled via the Redfield C/P ratio of marine phytoplankton and the C/P ratio of organic matter preserved in marine sediments. The model assumes that on geologic timescales, net primary production in the oceans is limited by the upwelling of dissolved phosphorus to the photic zone. The model incorporates the dependence on bottom water oxygenation of the regeneration of nutrient phosphorus from particulate matter deposited at the water-sediment interface. Evidence from marine and lacustrine settings, modern and ancient, demonstrates that sedimentary burial of phosphorus associated with organic matter and ferric oxyhydroxides decreases when bottom water anoxia-dysoxia expands. Steady state simulations show that a reduction in the rate of thermohaline circulation, or a decrease of the oxygen content of downwelling water masses, intensifies water column anoxia-dysoxia and at the same time increases surface water productivity. The first effect reflects the declining supply of oxygen to the deeper parts of the ocean. The second effect is caused by the enhanced benthic regeneration of phosphorus from organic matter and ferric oxyhydroxides. Sedimentary burial of organic carbon and authigenic calcium phosphate mineral (francolite), on the other hand, is promoted by reduced ocean ventilation. According to the model, global-scale anoxia-dysoxia leads to a more efficient recycling of reactive phosphorus within the ocean system. Consequently, higher rates of primary production and organic carbon burial can be achieved, even when the continental supply of reactive phosphorus to the oceans remains unchanged.