Research ArticleENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES

Air pollution–aerosol interactions produce more bioavailable iron for ocean ecosystems

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Science Advances  01 Mar 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 3, e1601749
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601749

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Abstract

It has long been hypothesized that acids formed from anthropogenic pollutants and natural emissions dissolve iron (Fe) in airborne particles, enhancing the supply of bioavailable Fe to the oceans. However, field observations have yet to provide indisputable evidence to confirm this hypothesis. Single-particle chemical analysis for hundreds of individual atmospheric particles collected over the East China Sea shows that Fe-rich particles from coal combustion and steel industries were coated with thick layers of sulfate after 1 to 2 days of atmospheric residence. The Fe in aged particles was present as a “hotspot” of (insoluble) iron oxides and throughout the acidic sulfate coating in the form of (soluble) Fe sulfate, which increases with degree of aging (thickness of coating). This provides the “smoking gun” for acid iron dissolution, because iron sulfate was not detected in the freshly emitted particles and there is no other source or mechanism of iron sulfate formation in the atmosphere.

Keywords
  • iron hypothesis
  • coal fly ash
  • iron oxides
  • NanoSIMS
  • iron fertilisation
  • Aerosol
  • Aerosol processes

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