delware environmental institute

As good as gold: Pyrite nanoparticles from hydrothermal vents are a rich source of iron

As good as gold: Pyrite nanoparticles from hydrothermal vents are a rich source of iron

Similar to humans, the bacteria and tiny plants living in the ocean need iron for energy and growth. But their situation is quite different than ours — for one, they can’t exactly turn to natural iron sources like leafy greens or red meat for a pick-me-up.

So where does their iron come from? New research published by Nature Geoscience points to a source on the seafloor: minute particles (called nanoparticles) of pyrite, or fool’s gold, from hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean.

Scientists already knew the vents’ cloudy plumes emitted from the earth’s interior include pyrite particles, but they thought they were solids that settled back on the ocean bottom. A University of Delaware team has shown that the vents emit a significant amount of pyrite as nanoparticles, which have a diameter that is one thousand times smaller than that of a human hair. Because the nanoparticles are so small, they are dispersed into the ocean rather than falling to the bottom. (Full article)

See also the NSF news site.