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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 14, issue 20
Biogeosciences, 14, 4637-4662, 2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Biogeosciences, 14, 4637-4662, 2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 20 Oct 2017

Research article | 20 Oct 2017

The acceleration of dissolved cobalt's ecological stoichiometry due to biological uptake, remineralization, and scavenging in the Atlantic Ocean

Mak A. Saito1, Abigail E. Noble1, Nicholas Hawco1, Benjamin S. Twining4, Daniel C. Ohnemus2, Seth G. John2, Phoebe Lam1,3, Tim M. Conway5, Rod Johnson6, Dawn Moran1, and Matthew McIlvin1 Mak A. Saito et al.
  • 1Stanley W. Watson Biogeochemistry Laboratory, Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
  • 2University of Southern California, Department of Earth Sciences, Los Angeles, CA 90089, USA
  • 3Department of Ocean Sciences, University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
  • 4Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, East Boothbay, ME 04544, USA
  • 5College of Marine Sciences, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, USA
  • 6Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, St. Georges, Bermuda GE 01, UK

Abstract. The stoichiometry of biological components and their influence on dissolved distributions have long been of interest in the study of the oceans. Cobalt has the smallest oceanic inventory of inorganic micronutrients and hence is particularly vulnerable to influence by internal oceanic processes including euphotic zone uptake, remineralization, and scavenging. Here we observe not only large variations in dCo:P stoichiometry but also the acceleration of those dCo:P ratios in the upper water column in response to several environmental processes. The ecological stoichiometry of total dissolved cobalt (dCo) was examined using data from a US North Atlantic GEOTRACES transect and from a zonal South Atlantic GEOTRACES-compliant transect (GA03/3_e and GAc01) by Redfieldian analysis of its statistical relationships with the macronutrient phosphate. Trends in the dissolved cobalt to phosphate (dCo:P) stoichiometric relationships were evident in the basin-scale vertical structure of cobalt, with positive dCo:P slopes in the euphotic zone and negative slopes found in the ocean interior and in coastal environments. The euphotic positive slopes were often found to accelerate towards the surface and this was interpreted as being due to the combined influence of depleted phosphate, phosphorus-sparing (conserving) mechanisms, increased alkaline phosphatase metalloenzyme production (a zinc or perhaps cobalt enzyme), and biochemical substitution of Co for depleted Zn. Consistent with this, dissolved Zn (dZn) was found to be drawn down to only 2-fold more than dCo, despite being more than 18-fold more abundant in the ocean interior. Particulate cobalt concentrations increased in abundance from the base of the euphotic zone to become  ∼ 10% of the overall cobalt inventory in the upper euphotic zone with high stoichiometric values of  ∼ 400µmolComol−1P. Metaproteomic results from the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) station found cyanobacterial isoforms of the alkaline phosphatase enzyme to be prevalent in the upper water column, as well as a sulfolipid biosynthesis protein indicative of P sparing. The negative dCo:P relationships in the ocean interior became increasingly vertical with depth, and were consistent with the sum of scavenging and remineralization processes (as shown by their dCo:P vector sums). Attenuation of the remineralization with depth resulted in the increasingly vertical dCo:P relationships. Analysis of particulate Co with particulate Mn and particulate phosphate also showed positive linear relationships below the euphotic zone, consistent with the presence and increased relative influence of Mn oxide particles involved in scavenging. Visualization of dCo:P slopes across an ocean section revealed hotspots of scavenging and remineralization, such as at the hydrothermal vents and below the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) region, respectively, while that of an estimate of Co* illustrated stoichiometrically depleted values in the mesopelagic and deep ocean due to scavenging. This study provides insights into the coupling between the dissolved and particulate phase that ultimately creates Redfield stoichiometric ratios, demonstrating that the coupling is not an instantaneous process and is influenced by the element inventory and rate of exchange between phases. Cobalt's small water column inventory and the influence of external factors on its biotic stoichiometry can erode its limited inertia and result in an acceleration of the dissolved stoichiometry towards that of the particulate phase in the upper euphotic zone. As human use of cobalt grows exponentially with widespread adoption of lithium ion batteries, there is a potential to affect the limited biogeochemical inertia of cobalt and its resultant ecology in the oceanic euphotic zone.

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Short summary
Cobalt has the smallest oceanic inventory of all known inorganic micronutrients, and hence is particularly vulnerable to influence by internal oceanic processes. The stoichiometry of cobalt was studied in the North Atlantic, and interpreted with regard to the context of Redfield theory with a focus on biological uptake, scavenging, and the coupling between dissolved and particulate phases. The stoichiometry of cobalt accelerated towards the surface due to increased biological activity and use.
Cobalt has the smallest oceanic inventory of all known inorganic micronutrients, and hence is...