Climatic Changes in North Atlantic O2 Amplified by Temperature Sensitivity of Phytoplankton Growth

A. Margolskee, T. Ito, M. Long, C. Deutsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ocean warming is associated with a decline in the global oxygen (O2) inventory, but the ratio of O2 loss to heat gain is poorly understood. We analyzed historical variability in temperature (T), O2, and nitrate (Formula presented.) in hydrographic observations and model simulations of the North Atlantic, a relatively well-sampled region that is important for deep ocean ventilation. Multidecadal fluctuations of O2 concentrations in subpolar thermocline waters (100–700 m) are correlated with changes in their heat content, with a slope 35% steeper than that expected from thermal solubility. Variations of O2 in excess of the solubility effect are correlated with observed decadal changes in (Formula presented.) in the surface layer (0–50 m), which declines by ∼1 mmol N m−3 per degree of temperature anomaly. Enhanced biologically mediated drawdown of nutrients from the photic zone and associated respiration in deeper water account for the additional depletion of thermocline O2 during warm years. In model simulations, increased nutrient consumption in warm periods is driven by an early start of the phytoplankton growing season and faster phytoplankton growth rates at higher temperatures. Our results highlight a role for phytoplankton T-dependent growth rates in amplifying ocean O2 loss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2023GB007930
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science


  • biologically enhanced oxygen loss
  • CESM hindcast
  • deoxygenation
  • ocean warming


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