Tracing the Sources and Biogeochemical Cycling of Phosphorus in Aquatic Systems Using Isotopes of Oxygen in Phosphate

  • Adina PaytanEmail author
  • Karen McLaughlin
Part of the Advances in Isotope Geochemistry book series (ADISOTOPE)


Phosphorous (P) is an essential nutrient for all living organisms and when available in surplus could cause eutrophication in aquatic systems. While P has only one stable isotope, P in most organic and inorganic P forms is strongly bonded to oxygen (O), which has three stable isotopes, providing a system to track phosphorus cycling and transformations using the stable isotopes of O in phosphate (PO4), δ18Op. This isotope system has only recently been utilized in aquatic environments. Available data obtained from different settings indicate that δ18Op of dissolved phosphate in aquatic systems can be applied successfully for identifying sources and cycling of phosphate in a broad range of environments. Specifically, work to date indicates that δ18Op is useful for deciphering sources of phosphate to aquatic systems if these sources have unique isotopic signatures and if phosphate cycling within the system is limited compared to input fluxes. In addition, because various processes are associated with distinct fractionation effects, the δ18Op tracer can be utilized to determine the degree of phosphorous cycling within the biomass and shed light on the processes imprinting the isotopic signatures. As a better understanding of the systematics of and various controls on δ18Op is gained, it is expected that δ18Op would be extensively applied in research geared to understand phosphorous dynamics in many environments.


Stable Isotope Isotopic Fractionation Oxygen Isotopic Composition Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry Dissolve Inorganic Phosphorus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors would like to thank Megan Young, Steve Silva, and Carol Kendall at the USGS Menlo Park, CA, and Federica Tamburini from ETH, Zurich for sharing their experience and knowledge of sample preparation and analyses of oxygen isotopes in phosphate.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSanta Cruz, Santa CruzUSA
  2. 2.Southern California Coastal Water Research ProjectCosta MesaUSA

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