Acceleration of the Phosphorous Cycle

Leaves growing in sewage in Thailand. Photo courtesy of captainkimo/Flickr.

The movement of phosphorous from rocks to living organisms is typically a slow process, but human activities have helped speed it up. For example, rocks that contain phosphorous are mined for use in fertilizers and detergents. This commercial production generally accelerates the phosphorous cycle.

Additionally, runoff from agricultural land and the release of sewage into water systems can cause a local overload of phosphate. This can lead to nutrient pollution and eutrophication, just as an excess of nitrogen can. Phosphate pollution can cause algal blooms and reduce the amount of oxygen available in aquatic ecosystems when decomposition occurs. This reduces the biodiversity of aquatic ecosystems. Marine birds play a unique role in the phosphorous cycle. These birds take up phosphorous from ocean fish. Their waste (guano) contain high levels of phosphorous and guano deposits on land are sometimes mined for commercial use.

Last modified: Thursday, 1 March 2012, 9:25 AM