Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 20 Issue 02

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Volume 20, No. 2
Pages 117 - 123


The Sulfur Cycle

By Stefan M. Sievert , Ronald P. Kiene , and Heide N. Schulz-Vogt  
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The ocean represents a major reservoir of sulfur on Earth, with large quantities in the form of dissolved sulfate and sedimentary minerals (e.g., gypsum and pyrite). Sulfur occurs in a variety of valence states, ranging from –2 (as in sulfide and reduced organic sulfur) to +6 (as in sulfate). Sulfate is the most stable form of sulfur on today’s oxic Earth; weathering and leaching of rocks and sediments are its main sources to the ocean. In addition, the reduced inorganic forms of sulfur, with oxidation states of –2 and 0 (as in elemental sulfur) are quite common in anoxic environments, with sulfur compounds of mixed valence states (e.g., thiosulfate and polythionates) produced transiently. The natural release of volatile organic sulfur compounds from the ocean, mainly as dimethyl sulfide (DMS), transports sulfur from the ocean to terrestrial regions, and it also affects atmospheric chemistry and the climate system (Figure 1). While they remain very important, natural sulfur emissions have currently been overtaken by anthropogenic emissions, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels.


Sievert, S.M., R.P. Kiene, and H.N. Schulz-Vogt. 2007. The sulfur cycle. Oceanography 20(2):117–123, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2007.55.

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