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Isotopes Environ Health Stud. 2010 Dec;46(4):444-53. doi: 10.1080/10256016.2010.536230.

Experimental investigation of sulphur isotope partitioning during outgassing of hydrogen sulphide from diluted aqueous solutions and seawater.

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Department of Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, Germany.


The diffusion of hydrogen sulphide across the sediment-water interface and subsequent liberation to the atmosphere may occur in iron-deficient coastal marine environments with enhanced microbial activity in surface sediments and corresponding accumulation of dissolved H2S in near-surface pore waters. The involvement of analogue processes in periods of global mass extinctions during Earth's history (e.g. at the Permian-Triassic boundary) is currently in discussion [L.R. Kump, A. Pavlov, and M. Arthur,Massive Release of Hydrogen Sulfide to the Surface Ocean and Atmosphere During Intervals of Oceanic Anoxia, Geology 33, 397 (2005)]. The outgassing of H₂S is associated with a fractionation of the stable sulphur isotopes, which has so far only been investigated experimentally at selected acidic and neutral pH values, and no experiments with seawater had been carried out. In this communication, we report on sulphur isotope fractionation that takes place during the experimental degassing of H₂S from aqueous solution by an inert gas (N₂) at 21 °C. Experiments were conducted in the pH range between 2.6 and 10.8, corresponding to the dominance fields of dissolved hydrogen sulphide (H₂S(aq)), bisulphide (HS-(aq)), and mixtures of both sulphide species. Overall isotope enrichment factors between -1.6 and +3.0‰ were observed, with the residual dissolved sulphide being enriched or depleted in ³⁴S compared to the liberated H₂S at low and high pH values, respectively. The difference in the low and high pH isotope fractionation effects can be explained by isotope exchange between H₂S(aq) and HS-(aq) [B. Fry, H. Gest, and J.M. Hayes, Sulfur Isotope Effects Associated with Protonation of HS- and Volatilization of H₂S, Chem. Geol. (Isot. Geosci. Sec.) 58, 253 (1986); R. Geßler and K. von Gehlen, Investigation of Sulfur Isotope Fractionation Between H2S Gas and Aqueous Solutions, Fresenius J. Anal. Chem. 324, 130 (1986)] followed by the subsequent transfer of H₂S(aq) to the gaseous phase. The assumption of pure physical outgassing of H₂S(aq) at low pH values leads to an isotope enrichment factor of -0.9 ± 0.4‰ (n = 14) which is caused by the combined differences in dehydration and diffusion coefficients of H₂³²S(aq) and H₂³⁴S(aq). In the pH range of natural surface and shallow pore waters, ³⁴S will be equal to or enriched in the gaseous phase compared to the aqueous solution, therefore creating no or a slight enrichment of ³²S in the aqueous solution. Experiments in seawater solution showed no significant influence of increased ionic strength and changed corresponding aqueous speciation on sulphur isotope effects.

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