Source apportionment of aerosol iron in the marine environment using iron isotope analysis

Chris Mead, Pierre Herckes, Brian J. Majestic, Ariel Anbar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Iron (Fe) is a critical nutrient for phytoplankton. In the open ocean, this demand coupled with scarce supply often makes Fe the limiting factor in phytoplankton growth. The largest source, by mass, of Fe to the open ocean is windblown soil dust, but this Fe is much less soluble than Fe from other aerosol sources. Therefore, to fully understand how Fe reaches this ecosystem, it is necessary to understand the range of sources of aerosol Fe. To do this, we collected size-segregated aerosol samples from Bermuda and analyzed them to determine their Fe isotope composition. From this analysis, we found clear evidence in the fine size fraction (< 2.5 μm) of an important non-soil-dust Fe source. Our isotope analysis of multiple oil and coal fly ashes shows that those materials cannot explain our finding. We suggest biomass burning as the most likely source. Key Points Iron isotope analysis reveals information about aerosol source Size-segregated aerosol sampling is essential to measuring non soil dust sources Biomass burning may be the source of isotopically light iron in Bermuda

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5722-5727
Number of pages6
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 16 2013


  • aerosols
  • iron isotopes
  • iron limitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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