Subsurface iron accumulation and rapid aluminum removal in the Mediterranean following African dust deposition

Matthieu Bressac, Thibaut Wagener, Nathalie Leblond, Antonio Tovar-Sánchez, Céline Ridame, Vincent Taillandier, Samuel Albani, Sophie Guasco, Aurélie Dufour, Stéphanie H.M. Jacquet, François Dulac, Karine Desboeufs, Cécile Guieu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mineral dust deposition is an important supply mechanism for trace elements in the low-latitude ocean. Our understanding of the controls of such inputs has been mostly built on laboratory and surface ocean studies. The lack of direct observations and the tendency to focus on near-surface waters prevent a comprehensive evaluation of the role of dust in oceanic biogeochemical cycles. In the frame of the PEACETIME project (ProcEss studies at the Air-sEa Interface after dust deposition in the MEditerranean sea), the responses of the aluminum (Al) and iron (Fe) cycles to two dust wet deposition events over the central and western Mediterranean Sea were investigated at a timescale of hours to days using a comprehensive dataset gathering dissolved and suspended particulate concentrations, along with sinking fluxes. Dissolved Al (dAl) removal was dominant over dAl released from dust. The Fe/Al ratio of suspended and sinking particles revealed that biogenic particles, and in particular diatoms, were key in accumulating and exporting Al relative to Fe. By combining these observations with published Al/Si ratios of diatoms, we show that adsorption onto biogenic particles, rather than active uptake, represents the main sink for dAl in Mediterranean waters. In contrast, systematic dissolved Fe (dFe) accumulation occurred in subsurface waters (∼ 100-1000m), while dFe input from dust was only transient in the surface mixed layer. The rapid transfer of dust to depth, the Fe-binding ligand pool in excess to dFe in subsurface (while nearly saturated in surface), and low scavenging rates in this particle-poor depth horizon are all important drivers of this subsurface dFe enrichment. At the annual scale, this previously overlooked mechanism may represent an additional pathway of dFe supply for the surface ocean through diapycnal diffusion and vertical mixing. However, low subsurface dFe concentrations observed at the basin scale (<0.5nmolkg-1) cause us to question the residence time for this dust-derived subsurface reservoir and hence its role as a supply mechanism for the surface ocean, stressing the need for further studies. Finally, these contrasting responses indicate that dAl is a poor tracer of dFe input in the Mediterranean Sea.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6435-6453
Number of pages19
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 15 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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