The age of iron and iron source attribution in the ocean


We use tracers to partition dissolved iron (dFe) into the contributions from each source within a numerical model of the iron cycle without perturbing the system. These contributions are further partitioned according to the time since injection into the ocean, which defines their iron-age spectrum and mean iron age. The utility of these diagnostics is illustrated for a family of inverse model estimates of the iron cycle, constrained by a data-assimilated circulation and available dFe measurements. The source contributions are compared with source anomalies defined as the differences between solutions with and without the source in question. We find that in the Southern Ocean euphotic zone, the hydrothermal and sediment contributions range from 15% to 30% of the total each, which the anomalies underestimate by a factor of ∼2 because of the nonlinearity of scavenging. The iron age is only reset by scavenging and attains a mean of several hundred years in the Southern Ocean euphotic zone, revealing that aeolian iron there is supplied primarily from depth as regenerated dFe. Tagging iron according to source region and pathways shows that 70–80% of the aeolian dFe in the euphotic zone near Antarctica is supplied from north of 46°S via paths that reach below 1 km depth. Hydrothermal iron has the oldest surface mean ages on the order of middepth ventilation times. A measure of uncertainty is provided by the systematic variations of our diagnostics across the family of iron cycle estimates, each member of which has a different aeolian source strength.

Global Biogeochemical Cycles