Coupling of the perturbed C-N-P cycles in industrial time

Abraham Lerman*, Fred T. Mackenzie, L. May Ver

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Coupling of the C-N-P biogeochemical cycles is effected by the dependence of the land and aquatic primary producers on the availability of N and P. In general, the Redfield ratios C:P and N:P in the reservoirs supplying nutrients for primary production on land, in the oceanic coastal zone, and in the surface ocean differ from these ratios in the land phytomass and aquatic plankton. When N:P in the source is higher than in primary producers, this results in a potential accumulation of some excess nitrogen in soil water and coastal water, and increased denitrification flux to the atmosphere. The oceanic coastal zone plays an important role in the coupled C-N-P cycles and their dynamics because of its intermediate position between the land and oceanic reservoirs. These coupled cycles were analyzed for the last 300 years of exposure to four human-generated forcings (fossil fuel emissions, land use change, chemical fertilization of land, and sewage discharge to the coastal zone) and global temperature rise. In the period from 1700 to 2000, there has been a net loss of C, N, and P primarily from the land phytomass and soil humus, despite the rise in atmospheric CO2, increased recycling of nutrients from humus, chemical fertilization, and re-growth of forests on previously disturbed land. The main mechanisms responsible for the net loss were increased riverine transport to the coastal zone of dissolved and particulate materials and, for N, increased denitrification on land. The oceanic coastal zone gained N and P, resulting in their accumulation in the organic pool of living biomass and dissolved and reactive particulates, as well as in their accumulation in coastal sediments from land-derived and in situ produced organic matter. Pronounced shifts in the rates and directions of change in some of the major land reservoirs occurred near the mid-1900s. Denitrification removes N from the pool available for primary production. It is the strongest on land, accounting for 73-83% of N removal from land by the combined mechanisms of denitrification and riverine export.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-32
Number of pages30
JournalAquatic Geochemistry
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Mar 2004


  • C-N-P cycles
  • C:N:P ratios
  • Coupled cycles
  • Cycle dynamics
  • Dentrification
  • Human perturbations
  • Land environment
  • Ocean coastal zone
  • Primary production

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology

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