Redox Stabilization of the Atmosphere and Oceans by Phosphorus-Limited Marine Productivity

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Science  26 Jan 1996:
Vol. 271, Issue 5248, pp. 493-496
DOI: 10.1126/science.271.5248.493


Data from modern and ancient marine sediments demonstrate that burial of the limiting nutrient phosphorus is less efficient when bottom waters are low in oxygen. Mass-balance calculations using a coupled model of the biogeochemical cycles of carbon, phosphorus, oxygen, and iron indicate that the redox dependence of phosphorus burial in the oceans provides a powerful forcing mechanism for balancing production and consumption of atmospheric oxygen over geologic time. The oxygen-phosphorus coupling further guards against runaway ocean anoxia. Phosphorus-mediated redox stabilization of the atmosphere and oceans may have been crucial to the radiation of higher life forms during the Phanerozoic.