Research ArticleGEOLOGY

Biomass recycling and Earth’s early phosphorus cycle

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Science Advances  22 Nov 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 11, eaao4795
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao4795

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Abstract

Phosphorus sets the pace of marine biological productivity on geological time scales. Recent estimates of Precambrian phosphorus levels suggest a severe deficit of this macronutrient, with the depletion attributed to scavenging by iron minerals. We propose that the size of the marine phosphorus reservoir was instead constrained by muted liberation of phosphorus during the remineralization of biomass. In the modern ocean, most biomass-bound phosphorus gets aerobically recycled; but a dearth of oxidizing power in Earth’s early oceans would have limited the stoichiometric capacity for remineralization, particularly during the Archean. The resulting low phosphorus concentrations would have substantially hampered primary productivity, contributing to the delayed rise of atmospheric oxygen.

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