The continental shelf benthic iron flux and its isotope composition

Silke Severmann, James McManus, William M. Berelson, Douglas E. Hammond

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182 Scopus citations


Benthic iron fluxes from sites along the Oregon-California continental shelf determined using in situ benthic chambers, range from less than 10μmolm-2d-1 to values in excess of ~300μmolm-2d-1. These fluxes are generally greater than previously published iron fluxes for continental shelves contiguous with the open ocean (as opposed to marginal seas, bays, or estuaries) with the highest fluxes measured in the regions around the high-sediment discharge Eel River and the Umpqua River. These benthic iron fluxes do not covary with organic carbon oxidation rates in any systematic fashion, but rather seem to respond to variations in bottom water oxygen and benthic oxygen demand. We hypothesize that the highest rates of benthic iron efflux are driven, in part, by the greater availability of reactive iron deposited along these river systems as compared to other more typical continental margin settings. Bioirrigation likely plays an important role in the benthic Fe flux in these systems as well. However, the influence of bottom water oxygen concentrations on the iron flux is significant, and there appears to be a threshold in dissolved oxygen (~60-80μM), below which sediment-ocean iron exchange is enhanced. The isotope composition of this shelf-derived benthic iron is enriched in the lighter isotopes, and appears to change by ~3‰ (δ56Fe) during the course of a benthic chamber experiment with a mean isotope composition of -2.7±1.1‰ (2 SD, n=9) by the end of the experiment. This average value is slightly heavier than those from two high benthic Fe flux restricted basins from the California Borderland region where δ56Fe is -3.4±0.4‰ (2 SD, n=3). These light iron isotope compositions support previous ideas, based on sediment porewater analyses, suggesting that sedimentary iron reduction fractionates iron isotopes and produces an isotopically light iron pool that is transferred to the ocean water column. In sum, our data suggest that continental shelves may export a higher efflux of iron than previously hypothesized, with the likelihood that along river-dominated margins, the benthic iron flux could well be orders of magnitude larger than non-river dominated shelves. The close proximity of the continental shelf benthos to the productive surface ocean means that this flux is likely to be essential for maintaining ecosystem micronutrient supply.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3984-4004
Number of pages21
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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