In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Global Phosphorus Dynamics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Textbooks
  • Journals and Meetings
  • Atmospheric Transport and Deposition of Phosphorus
  • Phosphorite Deposits and Mineral P Inventory

Environmental Science Global Phosphorus Dynamics
Delphine Defforey, Adina Paytan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0097


Phosphorus (P) is an essential element for both plant and animal life. It provides energy to cells in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and is a structural component of cell walls (phospholipids) and of nucleic acids (phosphate backbone of DNA and RNA). Biological productivity is heavily reliant on P availability to photosynthetic organisms, which constitute the base of the food chain in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and hence used as a fertilizer to increase crop yield. The biogeochemical processes governing P availability and dynamics in the environment are complex, and vary widely from one ecosystem to another, thus requiring a highly interdisciplinary approach to research.

General Overviews and Textbooks

Unlike other major biogeochemical elements, the global P cycle is unique in that it does not have a significant gaseous component, as phosphine requires a highly reduced environment to be stable. The majority of terrestrial reactive P is originally derived from the weathering of calcium phosphate (e.g., apatite) and other minerals and the conversion of mineral P to dissolved forms. Since P content in rocks is generally low, microbial recycling of organic P forms plays an important role in supporting primary production and controlling ecosystem structure. Overall, the global P cycle has five main components: (1) tectonic uplift of P-bearing rocks (e.g., phosphorite); (2) physical and chemical weathering of rocks and minerals, generating soils as well as particulate and dissolved P forms; (3) P transport to water bodies via rivers, streams, groundwater, and aerosols; (4) P transport to the deep ocean via sedimentation of mineral P and particulate organic matter (marine snow); and (5) P burial in marine sediments and transformations and lithification after burial. The textbooks included below provide overviews of specific components of the P cycle. Schlesinger and Bernhardt 2013 is a comprehensive textbook dedicated to biogeochemistry, with insights into global biogeochemical cycles, including that of P cycle. Libes 1992 and Hansell and Carlson 2002 focus on marine biogeochemistry, with the former including an overview of the marine P cycle and the latter focusing on dissolved organic matter and the dynamics of dissolved organic P. Turner, et al. 2005 focuses on organic P in the environment, from its characterization to the biotic and abiotic processes controlling its reactivity in the environment. Selim 2015 is a compilation of studies examining the role P plays in enhancing or reducing the mobility of heavy metals in soil and the soil-water-plant environment. Nriagu and Moore 1984 is dedicated to P mineralogy, while Shergold and Cook 2005; Notholt, et al. 2005; and Burnett and Riggs 2006 focus on phosphorite deposits across geologic time. Lastly, Zapata and Roy 2004 combines research on the application of phosphate rocks in agriculture.

  • Burnett, W. C., and S. R. Riggs. 2006. Phosphate deposits of the world. Vol. 3, Neogene to modern phosphorites. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This volume investigates the environmental setting and resulting phosphorus that formed during the Miocene, a recent major phosphogenic period.

  • Hansell, D. A., and C. A. Carlson. 2002. Biogeochemistry of marine dissolved organic matter. San Diego, CA: Elsevier.

    This text focuses on marine dissolved organic matter (DOM) and presents analytic methods for different DOM pools in addition to insights into the processes controlling DOM reactivity, composition, and transformations.

  • Libes, Susan M. 1992. An introduction to marine biogeochemistry. 2d ed. Burlington, MA: Elsevier.

    This book examines the physical and redox chemistry of seawater and marine sediments, as well as marine organic biogeochemistry and the issues of marine pollution.

  • Notholt, A. J. G., R. P. Sheldon, and D. F. Davidson. 2005. Phosphate deposits of the world. Vol. 2, phosphate rock resources. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This book details most major individual deposits or phosphate fields of the world, both of igneous and sedimentary origin.

  • Nriagu, J. O., and P. H. Moore. 1984. Phosphate minerals. Berlin: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-61736-2

    This mineralogy text is dedicated to phosphate minerals or their synthetic equivalents.

  • Schlesinger, W. H., and E. S. Bernhardt. 2013. Biogeochemistry: An analysis of global change. 3d ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    This book provides in-depth coverage of biogeochemical processes in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems along with a synthesis of the major biogeochemical cycles.

  • Selim, H. M. 2015. Phosphate in soils: Interaction with micronutrients, radionuclides and heavy metals. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis.

    This text brings together the latest research to highlight the role phosphate plays in enhancing or reducing the mobility of heavy metals in soil and the soil-water-plant environment.

  • Shergold, J. H., and P. J. Cook. 2005. Phosphate deposits of the world. Vol. 1, Proterozoic and Cambrian phosphorites. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This text describes almost one hundred Precambrian or Cambrian phosphorite deposits around the world, detailing their distribution, nature, and origin.

  • Turner, B. L., E. Frossard, and D. S. Baldwin. 2005. Organic phosphorus in the environment. Cambridge, MA: CABI.

    DOI: 10.1079/9780851998220.0000

    This book details the various approaches available for characterizing the chemical structure of organic P, as well as the processes controlling the dynamics of organic P in the environment. These include the abiotic stabilization and degradation of organic P, microbial processes, enzymatic hydrolysis, as well as P utilization by higher plants.

  • Zapata, F., and R. N. Roy. 2004. Use of phosphate rocks for sustainable agriculture. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    This book is dedicated to research on the application of phosphate rock sources to agriculture.

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