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Persistent equatorial Pacific iron limitation under ENSO forcing

Thomas J. Browning; Mak A. Saito; Shungudzemwoyo P. Graba; Xuechao Wang; Eric P. Achterberg; C. Mark Moore; Anja Engel; Matthew R. Mcllvin; Dawn Moran; Daniela Voss; Oliver Zielinski; Alessandro Tagliabue
In: Nature, Pages 1-22, Springer Nature Switzerland AG, 8/2023.


Projected responses of ocean net primary productivity to climate change are highly uncertain. Models suggest that the climate sensitivity of phytoplankton nutrient limitation in the low-latitude Pacific Ocean plays a crucial role, but this is poorly constrained by observations. Here we show that changes in physical forcing drove coherent fluctuations in the strength of equatorial Pacific iron limitation through multiple El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycles, but that this was overestimated twofold by a state-of-the-art climate model. Our assessment was enabled by first using a combination of field nutrient-addition experiments, proteomics and above-water hyperspectral radiometry to show that phytoplankton physiological responses to iron limitation led to approximately threefold changes in chlorophyll-normalized phytoplankton fluorescence. We then exploited the >18-year satellite fluorescence record to quantify climate-induced nutrient limitation variability. Such synoptic constraints provide a powerful approach for benchmarking the realism of model projections of net primary productivity to climate changes.