Zinc isotope fractionation during adsorption onto Mn oxyhydroxide at low and high ionic strength

Allison L. Bryan, Shuofei Dong, Elise B. Wilkes, Laura E. Wasylenki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


Marine ferromanganese sediments represent one of the largest sinks from global seawater for Zn, a critical trace metal nutrient. These sediments are variably enriched in heavier isotopes of Zn relative to deep seawater, and some are among the heaviest natural samples analyzed to date. New experimental results demonstrate that adsorption of Zn to poorly crystalline Mn oxyhydroxide results in preferential association of heavier isotopes with the sorbent phase. At low ionic strength our experimental system displayed a short-lived kinetic isotope effect, with light isotopes adsorbed to birnessite (δ66/64Znadsorbed-dissolved~-0.2‰). After 100h the sense of fractionation was opposite, such that heavier isotopes were preferentially adsorbed at steady state, but the magnitude of δ66/64Znadsorbed-dissolved was indistinguishable from zero (+0.05±0.08‰). At high ionic strength, we observed preferential sorption of heavy isotopes, with a strong negative correlation between δ66/64Znadsorbed-dissolved and the percentage of Zn on the birnessite. Values of δ66/64Znadsorbed-dissolved ranged from nearly +3‰ at low surface loading to +0.16‰ at high surface loading. Based on previous EXAFS work we infer that Zn adsorbs first as tetrahedral, inner-sphere complexes at low surface loading, with preferential incorporation of heavier isotopes relative to the octahedral Zn species predominating in solution. As surface loading increases, so does the proportion of Zn adsorbing as octahedral complexes, thus diminishing the magnitude of fractionation between the dissolved and adsorbed pools of Zn. The magnitude of fractionation at high ionic strength is also governed by aqueous speciation of Zn in synthetic seawater; a substantial fraction of Zn ions reside in chloro complexes, which preferentially incorporate light Zn isotopes, and this drives the adsorbed pool to be heavier relative to the bulk solution than it was at low ionic strength. Our results explain the observation that ferromanganese sediments are enriched in heavier isotopes of Zn relative to deep seawater. This represents a step towards building a robust mass balance model for Zn isotopes in the oceans and potentially using Zn isotopes to trace biogeochemical cycling of this important element in the modern and ancient oceans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-197
Number of pages16
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - May 5 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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