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Hydrothermal vents as a kinetically stable source of iron-sulphide-bearing nanoparticles to the ocean


Hydrothermal vents emit sulphur and metals to the ocean1. Particular attention has been paid to hydrothermal fluxes of iron2,3,4, a limiting micronutrient of marine primary production5. Vent-derived iron was previously thought to rapidly oxidize and precipitate around vents6. However, organic matter can bind to and stabilize dissolved and particulate iron in hydrothermal plumes7,8,9, facilitating its dispersion into the open ocean10. Here, we report measurements of the chemical speciation of sulphide and iron in high-temperature fluids emanating from vents in the East Pacific Rise and the Eastern Lau Spreading Center. We show that pyrite nanoparticles—composed of iron and sulphur—account for up to 10% of the filterable iron (less than 200 nm in size) in these fluids. We suggest that these particles form before the discharge of the vent fluid. We estimate that pyrite nanoparticles sink more slowly than larger plume particles, and are more resistant to oxidation than dissolved Fe(II) and FeS. We suggest that the discharge of iron in the form of pyrite nanoparticles increases the probability that vent-derived iron will be transported over long distances in the deep ocean.

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Figure 1: Sulphide speciation for the vent fluids.
Figure 2: Temperature of the vent versus the ratio CRS:ΔFe–N.
Figure 3: Pyrite nanoparticles as a previously unrecognized source of iron to the deep ocean.


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This work was supported by grants to G.W.L. III from the National Science Foundation RIDGE program and the University of Delaware’s NSF EPSCoR program. A.G. acknowledges support from the Critical Zone research program funded by the University of Delaware. We thank E. Croker for assistance with SEM imaging, S. Modla for assistance with TEM imaging and C. Golt for assistance in ICP analyses.

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Authors and Affiliations



M.Y. and G.W.L. III designed the study. M.Y., A.G. and G.W.L. III performed sample collection and on-board processing. M.Y. performed sulphide and iron speciation analyses. A.G. performed other metal analyses and reaction kinetics calculations. C.S.C. performed TEM analysis of pyrite nanoparticles and contributed to data analysis. M.Y. and G.W.L. III drafted the manuscript. All authors contributed to interpretation of the results and editing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Mustafa Yücel or George W. Luther III.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Yücel, M., Gartman, A., Chan, C. et al. Hydrothermal vents as a kinetically stable source of iron-sulphide-bearing nanoparticles to the ocean. Nature Geosci 4, 367–371 (2011).

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