Ocean Science

Phosphate Clues from Coral

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Science  21 Mar 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5870, pp. 1590
DOI: 10.1126/science.319.5870.1590c

Phosphorus is an essential macronutrient for marine organisms, and its availability probably exerts a major control on climate, due to its potential to affect the intensity of marine productivity and thereby contribute to regulation of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, no direct method to determine the abundance of marine phosphorus in the productive surface ocean in the geological past has been found, so the relationship between phosphorus availability and paleoclimate remains uncertain. La Vigne et al. report that the phosphorus-to-calcium ratio of a scleractinian coral, Pavona gigantea, tracks variations in seawater phosphate concentration, thereby offering a possible solution to the dilemma of not being able to reconstruct the history of that nutrient in the past. If their method proves robust, coral skeleton P/Ca might be a reliable proxy record of nutrient availability on time scales of decades to millennia. — HJS

Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L05604 (2008).

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