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We have investigated the chemical forms, reactivities and transformation kinetics of Fe(III) species present in coastal water with ion exchange and filtration methods. To simulate coastal water system, a mixture of ferric iron and fulvic acid was added to filtered seawater and incubated for a minute to a week. At each incubation time, the seawater sample was acidified with hydrochloric acid and then applied to anion exchange resin (AER) to separate negatively charged species (such as fulvic acid, its complexes with iron and iron oxyhydroxide coated with fulvic acid) from positively charged inorganic ferric iron (Fe(III)`). By monitoring the acid-induced Fe(Ill)` over an hour, it was found that iron complexed by fulvic acid dissociated rapidly to a large extent (86-92% at pH 2), whereas amorphous ferric oxyhydroxide particles associated with fulvic acid (AFO-L) dissociated very slowly with the first-order dissociation rate constants ranging from 6.1 x 10(-5) for pH 3 to 2.7 x 10(-4) s(-1) for pH 2. Therefore, a brief acidification followed by the AER treatment (acidification/AER method) was likely to be able to determine fulvic acid complexes and thus differentiate the complexes from the AFO-L particles (the dissolution of AFO-L was insignificant during the brief acidification). The acidification/AER method coupled with a simple filtration technique suggested that the iron-fulvic acid complexes exist in both the <0.02 mu m and 0.02-0.45 mu m size fractions in our coastal water system. The truly dissolved iron (<0.02 mu m) was relatively long-lived with a life-time of 14 days, probably due to the complexation by strong ligands. Such an acid-labile iron may be an important source of bioavailable iron in coastal environments, as a significant relationship between the chemical lability and bioavailability of iron has been well recognised. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.