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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • Benjamin Van Mooy
  • (508) 289-2322
Award Date:07/16/2015
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 689,502
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 689,502
  • FY 2015=$689,502
Start Date:10/01/2015
End Date:09/30/2018
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.050
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:Redox Cycling of Phosphorus in the Western North Atlantic Ocean
Federal Award ID Number:1536346
DUNS ID:001766682
Parent DUNS ID:001766682
Program:Chemical Oceanography
Program Officer:
  • Henrietta Edmonds
  • (703) 292-7427

Awardee Location

County:Woods Hole
Awardee Cong. District:09

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Street:360 Woods Hole Rd.
City:Woods Hole
County:Woods Hole
Cong. District:09

Abstract at Time of Award

Redox Cycling of Phosphorus in the Western North Atlantic Ocean Benjamin Van Mooy ID: 1536346 Understanding controls on the growth of plankton in the upper ocean, which plays an essential role in the sequestration of carbon dioxide, is an important endeavor for chemical oceanography. Phosphorus is an essential element for marine plankton, and has been a research focus of chemical oceanography for nearly a century. Yet, phosphorus redox cycling rates are almost completely unknown throughout the ocean, and the specific molecular identities of the phosphonates, a form of phosphate, in seawater have defied elucidation. This project will explore and refine entirely new pathways for the biological cycling of phosphorus. This project will support teaching and learning by funding the PhD research of a graduate student, and through the continuation of conducting K-12 classroom laboratory modules and hosting 6-8th grade science fair participants in the investigator's lab. Phosphorus has never been viewed by oceanographers as an element that actively undergoes chemical redox reactions in the water column, and it was believed to occur only in the +5 valence state, in compounds such as phosphate. However, over the last 17 years, numerous lines of geochemical and genomic information have emerged to show that phosphorus in the +3 valence state (P(+3)), particularly dissolved phosphonate compounds, may play a very important role within open ocean planktonic communities. This is particularly true in oligotrophic gyres such as the Sargasso Sea, where growth of phytoplankton can be limited by the scarcity of phosphate. To better understand these new data, the investigators will design and execute a research program that spans at-sea chemical oceanographic experimentation, state-of-the-art chromatography and mass spectrometry, and novel organic synthesis of 33P-labeled P(+3) compounds. Specifically, they will answer questions about rates of production and consumption of low molecular weight P(+3) compounds, the impact of phosphate availability on the production and consumption of P(+3) compounds, and the groups of phytoplankton that utilize low molecular weight P(+3) compounds. Results of this project have the potential to contribute to the transformation of our understanding of the marine phosphorus cycle.

Publications Produced as a Result of this Research

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Benjamin A.S. Van Mooy "Synthesis of high molar activity 33P-labeled phosphorous acid." Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, v., 2019, p.. doi: 

Kyle R. Frischkorn, Andreas Krupke, Cécile uieu, Justine Louis, Mónica Rouco, Andrés E. Salazar Estrada, Benjamin A. S. Van Mooy, and Sonya T. Dyhrman "Trichodesmium physiological ecology and phosphate reduction in the western tropical South Pacific" Biogeosciences, v.15, 2018, p.5761. doi: 

Project Outcomes Report


This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

Phosphorus is an essential element for all living things, including marine plankton.  This is because phosphorus is utilized to make DNA and other molecules, which all living things need in order to grow.  The phosphorus is these molecules is in a form termed "V" phosphorus after the roman numeral for the number 5.   However, over the last few years, numerous lines of chemical and genetic information have emerged to show that molecules containing phosphorus in the "III" form are also present in the ocean.  This is particularly true in offshore areas such as the Sargasso Sea, which is in the Atlantic Ocean about 100 miles off the coast of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.  There is so little phosphorus V in the Sargasso Sea, that plankton struggle to survive.   Yet we did not know if utilizing phosphorus III is something that helps struggling plankton. 

We wondered, which plankton make phosphorus III molecules?  When, where, why, and how do they make them?  These are all tough questions, but we made substantial progress toward answering them.

We went on two research cruises between the Sargasso Sea and the east coast of the U.S., sampling the plankton along the way and taking them back to the laboratory for chemical analysis.  Our data showed us something unexpected: the phosphorus III molecules were more important in waters right off of our coast.  These strange and unknown molecules may be made by some of the smallest plankton in the ocean.  Interestingly, these plankton made more phosphorus III molecules when there was more phosphorus V available in the water.  Since agriculture and other processes are leading to more phosphorus being delivered to the ocean from rivers, it is possible that these phosphorus III molecules will become even more important.  In fact, the most important herbicides used on farms contain phosphorus in the III form.  Since phosphorus is so important for all living things, we need to know more about the roles that phosphorus III and V play in the oceans off our coasts. 

Last Modified: 06/03/2019
Modified by: Benjamin Van Mooy

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