The importance of kinetics and redox in the biogeochemical cycling of iron in the surface ocean

Peter L. Croot, Maija I. Heller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


It is now well established that Iron (Fe) is a limiting element in many regions of the open ocean. Our current understanding of the key processes which control iron distribution in the open ocean have been largely based on thermodynamic measurements performed under the assumption of equilibrium conditions. Using this equilibrium approach, researchers have been able to detect and quantify organic complexing ligands in seawater and exam- ine their role in increasing the overall solubility of iron. Our current knowledge about iron bioavailability to phytoplankton and bacteria is also based heavily on carefully controlled laboratory studies where it is assumed the chemical species are in equilibrium in line with the free ion association model and/or its successor the biotic ligand model. Similarly most field work on iron biogeochemistry generally consists of a single profile which is in essence a "snap-shot" in time of the system under investigation. However it is well known that the surface ocean is an extremely dynamic environment and it is unlikely if thermodynamic equilibrium between all the iron species present is ever truly achieved. In sunlit waters this is mostly due to the daily passage of the sun across the sky leading to photoredox processes which alter Fe speciation by cycling between redox states and between inor- ganic and organic species. Episodic deposition events, dry and wet, are also important perturbations to iron cycling as they bring in new iron to the system and alter the equilib- rium between iron species and phases. Here we utilize new field data collected in the open ocean on the complexation kinetics of iron in the surface ocean to identify the important role of weak iron binding ligands (i.e., those that cannot maintain iron in solution indefinitely at seawater pH: αFeL < αFe′) in allowing transient increases in iron solubility in response to iron deposition events. Experiments with the thermal O2- source SOTS-1 also indicate the short term impact of this species on iron solubility also with relevance to the euphotic zone. This data highlights the roles of kinetics, redox, and weaker iron binding ligands in the biogeochemical cycling of iron in the ocean.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberJUN
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Complexation kinetics
  • Iron biogeochemistry
  • Iron solubility
  • Redox kinetics


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