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In Deep Water

Iron (Fe) is one of the most abundant elements on Earth and plays an important role in many biological functions. In seawater, the isotopic abundance of iron is effected by climate changes and these variations have widespread implications on the well being of marine life.

Scientists at the University of Oxford have used inductively-coupled plasma source mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) to study the isotopic composition of iron in deep sea crusts collected from the San Pablo sea mount in the North Atlantic ocean. This crust is estimated to grow at a rate of 1.6 mm every million years.

Iron isotope compositions were measured relative to a reference standard as a function of depth. When plotted as a time series, the isotope fraction shows small variations between two to six million years ago, but show much large variations within the past two million years. This variation is interpreted to reflect changes in North Atlantic sea water during the time in which the crusts grew.

But what has caused the variation in iron isotope compositions in more recent times ? The close correlation between variations in the isotopes of lead (Pb), an element not utilized biologically, suggests that their is no biologically induced cause. Further studies are proposed by the authors to investigate the mechanisms for this phenomenon.

Read the full article in
Science, Vol. 287, 2000-2002 (2000).


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