Environmental Chemistry Environmental Chemistry Society
Environmental problems - Chemical approaches
RESEARCH FRONT

A critical look at the calculation of the binding characteristics and concentration of iron complexing ligands in seawater with suggested improvements

Loes J. A. Gerringa A B , Micha J. A. Rijkenberg A , Charles-Edouard Thuróczy A and Leo R. M. Maas A

A Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, PO Box 59, NL-1790 AB Den Burg, the Netherlands.

B Corresponding author. Email: loes.gerringa@nioz.nl

Environmental Chemistry 11(2) 114-136 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/EN13072
Submitted: 28 March 2013  Accepted: 27 September 2013   Published: 20 March 2014

Environmental context. The low concentration of iron in the oceans limits growth of phytoplankton. Dissolved organic molecules, called ligands, naturally present in seawater, bind iron thereby increasing its solubility and, consequently, its availability for biological uptake by phytoplankton. The characteristics of these ligands are determined indirectly with various mathematical solutions; we critically evaluate the underlying method and calculations used in these determinations.

Abstract. The determination of the thermodynamic characteristics of organic Fe binding ligands, total ligand concentration ([Lt]) and conditional binding constant (K′), by means of titration of natural ligands with Fe in the presence of an added known competing ligand, is an indirect method. The analysis of the titration data including the determination of the sensitivity (S) and underlying model of ligand exchange is discussed and subjected to a critical evaluation of its underlying assumptions. Large datasets collected during the International Polar Year, were used to quantify the error propagation along the determination procedure. A new and easy to handle non-linear model written in R to calculate the ligand characteristics is used. The quality of the results strongly depends on the amount of titration points or Fe additions in a titration. At least four titration points per distinguished ligand group, together with a minimum of four titration points where the ligands are saturated, are necessary to obtain statistically reliable estimates of S, K′ and [Lt]. As a result estimating the individual concentration of two ligands, although perhaps present, might not always be justified.


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