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We have investigated the kinetics of Fe(III) complexation by several organic ligands including fulvic acid, citrate and ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA). Particular attention was given to examination of the effect of competitive divalent cations (Me: Ca2+ and Mg2+) at concentrations typical of seawater on the cornplexation rate. All experiments were conducted in 0.5 M NaCl solution buffered with 2 mM bicarbonate at pH 8.0 in the absence and presence of Me (25 mu M-250 mM). The rate constants of complex formation determined by using the competitive ligand (5-sulfosalicylic acid) method combined with visible spectrophotometry ranged from 3.3 x 10(4) to 3.2 x 10(6) M-1 s(-1). The mechanism of complexation was then examined based on a kinetic model. When EDTA was used as a ligand, Me at concentrations comparable to the ligand markedly retarded the rate of iron complex formation due to the predominance of an adjunctive pathway (where iron-ligand complex is formed via direct association of iron to Me-ligand complex). In contrast, the competing effect of Me on iron complexation by citrate and fulvic acid was observed only when the Me concentration was in excess of the ligand by more than a factor of 10-1000. The kinetic model suggests that iron complexation by fulvic acid occurs predominantly via a disjunctive pathway (where iron complexation by ligand occurs after dissociation of Me from Me-ligand complex) at concentrations of divalent cations and natural organic matter typical of natural waters including seawater and freshwater. 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.