Magazine article Ecos

Phosphorus Sheds New Light on the Ocean's Carbon Dioxide Pump

Magazine article Ecos

Phosphorus Sheds New Light on the Ocean's Carbon Dioxide Pump

Article excerpt

A recent finding that the preserved skeletons of ancient deep-sea corals stored phosphorus in exactly the same amounts as the surrounding oceans has opened the way for researchers to measure the ability of the world's oceans to absorb manmade C[O.sub.2]. This may help answer one of the biggest questions surrounding global warming: whether or not the oceans can keep pace with human C[O.sub.2] output.

Professor Malcolm McCulloch, deputy director of the Center of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies (CoERCS) and research leader at the Australian National University's Research School of Earth Sciences, and colleagues from Italian and Spanish research institutions led by Dr Paolo Montagna have used a sophisticated dating method on fossil corals to piece together information on the oceans as far back as the last glacial period, nearly 20 000 years ago. Their results were recently published in Science.

The technique used calculates the amount of phosphorus present, a nutrient of vital importance to all life.

'Now that we have this tool we can look more closely at the role of nutrients in the ocean and try to understand, in a lot more detail, how they operated in the past,' said Professor McCulloch.

'Phosphorus is a key nutrient in the ocean that controls biological productivity. Organisms use it up and because there is only so much available, there is a limit to how many organisms there can be.'

Plants and animals in the ocean's surface waters drive a 'biologic pump' of productivity, taking up much of the carbon dioxide (C[O. …

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