A bibliographic database comprising 17 604 references on biogeochemistry and disturbancesin coastal ecosystems was compiled for the period 1971 to 2004 from the Aquatic Science andFisheries Abstracts and the Web of Science databases. The coastal ocean received increased attentionstarting in the early 1990s, as shown by the increase in the rate of publication, both in absolutenumber (2-fold increase of the yearly rate) and relative to the publication rate of all disciplines (3-foldincrease). The number of publications on each ecosystem type and the geographic location of studysites are not proportional to their respective surface area. By this measure, estuaries and the opencontinental shelf are, respectively, over- and under-investigated, and the research effort is disproportionatelyhigh in some areas (e.g. the North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, the subjects of41% of the publications) and low in other areas (e.g. high-latitude coastal zones and the westernPacific). The cycling of inorganic nutrients is the biogeochemical process receiving the highestresearch effort (46% of the publications). Although controversial, exchanges with the atmosphere,including CO2, have been poorly investigated, with only 1.3% of the publications. The magnitude ofscientific community publishing increased 13-fold during the period of investigation, also demonstratingthe growing interest in coastal biogeochemistry and disturbances. Moreover, the lists ofauthors have become longer, perhaps indicating research projects wider in scope. Senior authorsfrom 137 countries contributed papers; the EU25 and the USA contributed about 1⁄3 of the publicationseach. The number of publications per million inhabitants is highly correlated to the gross domesticproduct per inhabitant, but some countries perform better (the Scandinavian countries, Australia,New Zealand and Canada) or less well (Japan, the USA and Italy) than average. The number of citationsof the publications is highly variable and indicates that barriers between disciplines still exist.At least 2 specialized journals (Estuaries and Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science) are among themost relevant journals, but Marine Ecology Progress Series is the single most important source of literaturein the fields of coastal biogeochemistry and disturbances. This diagnostic should be useful tothe research community and funding agencies to address the present imbalances in research allocationand to steer attention to geographical areas and processes that remain poorly investigated. Onlythen can the role of the coastal ocean on the global biogeochemical cycles and its response to climaticand anthropogenic disturbances be clarified.