The phosphorus cycle is the biogeochemical cycle that describes the movement of phosphorus through the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Unlike many other biogeochemical cycles, the atmosphere does not play a significant role in the movements of phosphorus, because phosphorus and phosphorus-based compounds are usually solids at the typical ranges of temperature and pressure found on Earth.
Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plants and animals in the form of ions. Phosphorus forms parts of important life sustaining molecules but is not very common in the biosphere. Phosphorus does not enter the atmosphere, remaining mostly on land and in rock and soil minerals. 80 percent of the phosphorus is used to make fertilizers and a type of phosphorus such as dilute phosphoric acid is used in soft drinks. Phosphates may be effective in such ways but also causes pollution issues in lakes and streams. Over enrichment of phosphate can lead to algae bloom, because of the excess nutrients. This causes more algae to grow, bacteria consumes the algae and causes more bacteria to grow in large amounts. They use all the oxygen in the water during cellular respiration, causing many fish to die.
Phosphorus normally occurs in nature as part of a phosphate ion, consisting of a phosphorus atom and some number of oxygen atoms, the most abundant form (called orthophosphate). Most phosphates are found as salts in ocean sediments or in rocks. Over time, geologic processes can bring ocean sediments to land, and weathering will carry these phosphates to terrestrial habitats. Plants absorb phosphates from the soil, then bind the phosphate into organic compounds. The plants may then be consumed by herbivores who in turn may be consumed by carnivores. After death, the animal or plant decays, and the phosphates are returned to the soil. Runoff may carry them back to the ocean or they may be reincorporated into rock.
The primary biological importance of phosphates is as a component of nucleotides, which serve as energy storage within cells (ATP) or when linked together, form the nucleic acids DNA and RNA. Phosphorus is also found in bones, whose strength is derived from calcium phosphate, and in phospholipids (found in all biological membranes).
Phosphates move quickly through plants and animals; however, the processes that move them through the soil or ocean are very slow, making the phosphorus cycle overall one of the slowest biogeochemical cycles.