Letter | Published:

Basin-scale transport of hydrothermal dissolved metals across the South Pacific Ocean

Nature volume 523, pages 200203 (09 July 2015) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Hydrothermal venting along mid-ocean ridges exerts an important control on the chemical composition of sea water by serving as a major source or sink for a number of trace elements in the ocean1,2,3. Of these, iron has received considerable attention because of its role as an essential and often limiting nutrient for primary production in regions of the ocean that are of critical importance for the global carbon cycle4. It has been thought that most of the dissolved iron discharged by hydrothermal vents is lost from solution close to ridge-axis sources2,5 and is thus of limited importance for ocean biogeochemistry6. This long-standing view is challenged by recent studies which suggest that stabilization of hydrothermal dissolved iron may facilitate its long-range oceanic transport7,8,9,10. Such transport has been subsequently inferred from spatially limited oceanographic observations11,12,13. Here we report data from the US GEOTRACES Eastern Pacific Zonal Transect (EPZT) that demonstrate lateral transport of hydrothermal dissolved iron, manganese, and aluminium from the southern East Pacific Rise (SEPR) several thousand kilometres westward across the South Pacific Ocean. Dissolved iron exhibits nearly conservative (that is, no loss from solution during transport and mixing) behaviour in this hydrothermal plume, implying a greater longevity in the deep ocean than previously assumed6,14. Based on our observations, we estimate a global hydrothermal dissolved iron input of three to four gigamoles per year to the ocean interior, which is more than fourfold higher than previous estimates7,11,14. Complementary simulations with a global-scale ocean biogeochemical model suggest that the observed transport of hydrothermal dissolved iron requires some means of physicochemical stabilization and indicate that hydrothermally derived iron sustains a large fraction of Southern Ocean export production.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the captain and crew of the RV Thomas G. Thompson (TGT cruise 303) for their support during the 57-day mission. Samples were collected on board ship by C. Parker and C. Zurbrick, from the US GEOTRACES sampling system maintained and operated by G. Cutter. We thank the many people who have devoted time and effort to the international GEOTRACES programme. This work was funded by US National Science Foundation awards OCE-1237011 to J.A.R., OCE-1237034 to P.N.S., OCE-1232991 to W.J.J., OCE-1130870 to C.R.G., and OCE-1131731 and OCE-1260273 to J.W.M. Model simulations made use of the N8 HPC facilities, funded by the N8 consortium and EPSRC grant EP/K000225/1. C.R.G. also acknowledges support from a Humboldt Research Award. J.A.R. was funded in part through JISAO by the PMEL-Earth Oceans Interactions programme. This is JISAO publication number 2388 and PMEL publication number 4255.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and the Ocean, University of Washington and NOAA-PMEL, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, Washington 98115, USA

    • Joseph A. Resing
  2. Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia 23529, USA

    • Peter N. Sedwick
    •  & Bettina M. Sohst
  3. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA

    • Christopher R. German
    •  & William J. Jenkins
  4. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, 3616 Trousdale Parkway #AHF204, Los Angeles, California 90089, USA

    • James W. Moffett
  5. Department of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, 4 Brownlow Street, Liverpool L69 3GP, UK

    • Alessandro Tagliabue

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Contributions

J.A.R. participated on the EPZT and determined Ald and Mnd; P.N.S. interpreted the Fed data; C.R.G. co-designed the study and participated in the EPZT; W.J.J. collected 3Hexs data; J.W.M. co-designed the study, participated in the EPZT, and collected Fe(II) data; B.M.S. participated in the EPZT and determined Fed; A.T. conducted the modelling experiments and interpreted their results. All authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Joseph A. Resing or Alessandro Tagliabue.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14577

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