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Origins of sulphate in Antarctic dry-valley soils as deduced from anomalous 17O compositions

Nature volume 407, pages 499502 (28 September 2000) | Download Citation



The dry valleys of Antarctica are some of the oldest terrestrial surfaces on the Earth. Despite much study of soil weathering and development, ecosystem dynamics and the occurrence of life in these extreme environments1,2,3, the reasons behind the exceptionally high salt content of the dry-valley soils4,5,6 have remained uncertain. In particular, the origins of sulphate are still controversial; proposed sources include wind-blown sea salt5,7, chemical weathering8, marine incursion9, hydrothermal processes10 and oxidation of biogenic sulphur in the atmosphere1. Here we report measurements of δ 18O and δ17O values of sulphates from a range of dry-valley soils. These sulphates all have a large positive anomaly11 of 17O, of up to 3.4‰. This suggests that Antarctic sulphate comes not just from sea salt (which has no anomaly of 17O) but also from the atmospheric oxidation of reduced gaseous sulphur compounds, the only known process that can generate the observed 17 O anomaly. This source is more prominent in high inland soils, suggesting that the distributions of sulphate are largely explained by differences in particle size and transport mode which exist between sea-salt aerosols and aerosols formed from biogenic sulphur emission.

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We thank D. S. Sheppard for discussion on his recent isotopic data for sulphate and nitrate in Antarctic soils, and J. Savarino for comments. We thank NASA and the NSF for support.

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  1. *Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Mail Code 0356, University of California San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92093-0356, USA

    • Huiming Bao
    • , Douglas A. Campbell
    •  & Mark H. Thiemens
  2. †Department of Soil Science, University of Wisconsin, 1525 Observatory Drive, Madison , Wisconsin 53706-1299, USA

    • James G. Bockheim


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