The importance of atmospheric deposition for ocean productivity

Tim Jickells, C. Mark Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Citations (Scopus)


Dust is produced primarily in desert regions and transported long distances through the atmosphere to the oceans. Upon deposition of dust, its dissolution can provide an important source of a range of nutrients, particularly iron, to microbes living in open ocean surface waters. The dust supply is greatest nearest to deserts, hence in the Northern Hemisphere. The Southern Ocean region is farthest from these dust sources and shows clear evidence that phytoplankton primary production is limited, at least in part, by the rate of supply of iron. Iron is also essential for nitrogen fixation. In regions of high atmospheric iron supply, such as the tropical North Atlantic, stimulation of nitrogen fixation drives the phytoplankton population toward a state in which phosphorus supply rates limit primary production. Atmospheric deposition is also an important source of nitrogen to the low latitude ocean, where it stimulates primary production. In this review we consider the sources, transport, and deposition of atmospheric dust/iron and nitrogen to the oceans and their impacts on plankton systems. In conclusion, we suggest key areas for future research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-501
Number of pages21
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


  • Deserts
  • iron
  • nitrogen
  • phytoplankton
  • nitrogen fixation

Cite this