Biotic and abiotic retention, recycling and remineralization of metals in the ocean

Philip W. Boyd, Michael J. Ellwood, Alessandro Tagliabue, Benjamin S. Twining

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    98 Citations (Scopus)


    Trace metals shape both the biogeochemical functioning and biological structure of oceanic provinces. Trace metal biogeochemistry has primarily focused on modes of external supply of metals from aeolian, hydrothermal, sedimentary and other sources. However, metals also undergo internal transformations such as abiotic and biotic retention, recycling and remineralization. The role of these internal transformations in metal biogeochemical cycling is now coming into focus. First, the retention of metals by biota in the surface ocean for days, weeks or months depends on taxon-specific metal requirements of phytoplankton, and on their ultimate fate: That is, viral lysis, senescence, grazing and/or export to depth. Rapid recycling of metals in the surface ocean can extend seasonal productivity by maintaining higher levels of metal bioavailability compared to the influence of external metal input alone. As metal-containing organic particles are exported from the surface ocean, different metals exhibit distinct patterns of remineralization with depth. These patterns are mediated by a wide range of physicochemical and microbial processes such as the ability of particles to sorb metals, and are influenced by the mineral and organic characteristics of sinking particles. We conclude that internal metal transformations play an essential role in controlling metal bioavailability, phytoplankton distributions and the subsurface resupply of metals.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)167-173
    Number of pages7
    JournalNature Geoscience
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


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