Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Eutrophication in the Coastal Marine Environment

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Science  12 Mar 1971:
Vol. 171, Issue 3975, pp. 1008-1013
DOI: 10.1126/science.171.3975.1008


The distribution of inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus and bioassay experiments both show that nitrogen is the critical limiting factor to algal growth and eutrophication in coastal marine waters. About twice the amount of phosphate as can be used by the algae is normally present. This surplus results from the low nitrogen to phosphorus ratio in terrigenous contributions, including human waste, and from the fact that phosphorus regenerates more quickly than ammonia from decomposing organic matter. Removal of phosphate from detergents is therefore not likely to slow the eutrophication of coastal marine waters, and its replacement with nitrogen-containing nitrilotriacetic acid may worsen the situation.

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