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Water Quality


Phosphorus usually is the most important nutrient limiting phytoplankton productivity in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Phosphorus occurs naturally in most geological formations and soils in varying amounts and forms; the main source of agricultural and industrial phosphate is deposits of the mineral apatite—known as rock phosphate. Municipal and agricultural pollution is a major source of phosphorus to many water bodies. Most dissolved inorganic phosphorus in aquatic ecosystems is an ionization product of orthophosphoric acid (H3PO4). At the pH of most water bodies, HPO4 2− and H2PO4 are the forms of dissolved phosphate. Despite its biological significance, the dynamics of phosphorus in ecosystems are dominated by chemical processes. Phosphate is removed from water by reactions with aluminum, and to a lesser extent, with iron in sediment. In alkaline environments, phosphate is precipitated as calcium phosphate. Aluminum, iron and calcium phosphates are only slightly soluble, and sediments act as sinks for phosphorus. Concentrations of inorganic phosphorus in water bodies seldom exceed 0.1 mg/L, and total phosphorus concentration rarely is greater than 0.5 mg/L. In anaerobic zones, the solubility of iron phosphates increases; sediment pore water and hypolimnetic water of eutrophic lakes may have phosphate concentrations above 1 mg/L. Phosphorus is not toxic at elevated concentration, but along with nitrogen, it can lead to eutrophication.

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Boyd, C.E. (2015). Phosphorus. In: Water Quality. Springer, Cham.

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