Atmospheric aerosol deposition is an important source of nutrients and trace metals to the open ocean that can enhance ocean productivity and carbon sequestration and thus influence atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and climate. Using aerosol samples from different back trajectories in incubation experiments with natural communities, we demonstrate that the response of phytoplankton growth to aerosol additions depends on specific components in aerosols and differs across phytoplankton species. Aerosol additions enhanced growth by releasing nitrogen and phosphorus, but not all aerosols stimulated growth. Toxic effects were observed with some aerosols, where the toxicity affected picoeukaryotes and Synechococcus but notProchlorococcus. We suggest that the toxicity could be due to high copper concentrations in these aerosols and support this by laboratory copper toxicity tests preformed with Synechococcus cultures. However, it is possible that other elements present in the aerosols or unknown synergistic effects between these elements could have also contributed to the toxic effect. Anthropogenic emissions are increasing atmospheric copper deposition sharply, and based on coupled atmosphere–ocean calculations, we show that this deposition can potentially alter patterns of marine primary production and community structure in high aerosol, low chlorophyll areas, particularly in the Bay of Bengal and downwind of South and East Asia.