Toward a regional classification to provide a more inclusive examination of the ocean biogeochemistry of iron-binding ligands

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Frontiers in Marine Science, 2017, 4 (FEB)
Issue Date:
2017-02-01
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© 2017 Hassler, van den Berg and Boyd. Iron-binding ligands are paramount to understanding iron biogeochemistry and its potential to set the productivity and the magnitude of the biological pump in > 30% of the ocean. However, the nature of these ligands is largely uncharacterized and little is known about their sources, sensitivity to photochemistry and biological transformation, or scavenging behavior. Despite many uncertainties, there is no doubt that ligands are produced by a wide range of biotic and abiotic processes, and that the bulk ligand pool encompasses a diverse range of molecules. Despite widespread recognition of the likelihood of a continuum of ligand classes making up the bulk ligand pool, studies to date largely focused on the dominant ligand. Thus, most studies have overlooked the need to assess where these targeted molecules fit across the spectrum of ligands that comprise the bulk ligand pool. Here we summarize present knowledge to critically assess the source(s), function(s), production pathways, and loss mechanisms of three important iron-binding organic ligand groups in order to assess their distinctive characteristics and how they link with observed ligand distributions. We considered that ligands are contained in broad groupings of exopolymer substances (EPS), humic substances (HS), and siderophores; using literature data for speciation modeling suggested that this adequately described the iron speciation reported in the ocean. We hypothesize that a holistic viewpoint of the multi-faceted controls on ligands dynamics is essential to begin to understand why some ligands can be expected to dominate in particular oceanic regions, depth strata, or exhibit seasonality and/or lateral gradients. We advocate that the development of a regional classification will enhance our understanding of the changing composition of the bulk ligand pool across the global ocean and to help address to what extent seasonality influences the makeup of this pool. This classification, based on selected functional ligand classes, can act as a bridge to use future ligand datasets to fill in the gaps in the continuum.
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