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  1. Surface ocean phosphate is commonly below the standard analytical detection limits, leading to an incomplete picture of the global variation and biogeochemical role of phosphate. A global compilation of phosphate measured using high-sensitivity methods revealed several previously unrecognized low-phosphate areas and clear regional differences. Both observational climatologies and Earth system models (ESMs) systematically overestimated surface phosphate. Furthermore, ESMs misrepresented the relationships between phosphate, phytoplankton biomass, and primary productivity. Atmospheric iron input and nitrogen fixation are known important controls on surface phosphate, but model simulations showed that differences in the iron-to-macronutrient ratio in the vertical nutrient supply and surface lateral transport are additional drivers of phosphate concentrations. Our study demonstrates the importance of accurately quantifying nutrients for understanding the regulation of ocean ecosystems and biogeochemistry now and under future climate conditions. 
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