The Global Marine Selenium Cycle: Insights from Measurements and Modeling
Anthropogenic activities have increased the selenium (Se) concentration in the biosphere, but the overall impact on the ocean has not been examined. While Se is an essential nutrient for microorganisms, there is little information on the impact of biological processes on the concentration and speciation of Se in the ocean. Additionally, other factors controlling the distribution and concentration of Se species are poorly understood. Here we present data gathered in the subtropical Pacific Ocean during a cruise in 2011 and we used these field data and the literature, as well as laboratory photochemical experiments examining the stability and degradation of inorganic Se (both Se (IV) and Se (VI)) and dimethyl selenide, to further constrain the cycling of Se in the upper ocean. We also developed a multi‐box model for the biosphere to examine the impact of anthropogenic emissions on the concentration and distribution of Se in the ocean. The model concurs with the field data indicating that the Se concentration has increased in the upper ocean waters over the past 30 years. Our observational studies and model results suggest that Se (VI) is taken up by phytoplankton in the surface ocean, in contrast to the results of laboratory culture experiments. In conclusion, while anthropogenic inputs have markedly increased Se in the atmosphere (42%) and net deposition to the ocean (38%) and terrestrial landscape (41%), the impact on Se in the ocean is small (3% increase in the upper ocean). This minimal response reflects its long marine residence time.