Atmospheric iron deposition: Global distribution, variability, and human perturbations

Natalie M. Mahowald, Sebastian Engelstaedter, Chao Luo, Andrea Sealy, Paulo Artaxo, Claudia Benitez-Nelson, Sophie Bonnet, Ying Chen, Patrick Y. Chuang, David D. Cohen, Francois Dulac, Barak Herut, Anne M. Johansen, Nilgun Kubilay, Remi Losno, Willy Maenhaut, Adina Paytan, Joseph M. Prospero, Lindsey M. Shank, Ronald L. Siefert

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Atmospheric inputs of iron to the open ocean are hypothesized to modulate ocean biogeochemistry. This review presents an integration of available observations of atmospheric iron and iron deposition, and also covers bioavailable iron distributions. Methods for estimating temporal variability in ocean deposition over the recent past are reviewed. Desert dust iron is estimated to represent 95% of the global atmospheric iron cycle, and combustion sources of iron are responsible for the remaining 5%. Humans may be significantly perturbing desert dust (up to 50%). The sources of bioavailable iron are less well understood than those of iron, partly because we do not know what speciation of the iron is bioavailable. Bioavailable iron can derive from atmospheric processing of relatively insoluble desert dust iron or from direct emissions of soluble iron from combustion sources. These results imply that humans could be substantially impacting iron and bioavailable iron deposition to ocean regions, but there are large uncertainties in our understanding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-278
Number of pages34
JournalAnnual Review of Marine Science
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Aerosol deposition
  • Climate change
  • Deserts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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