Iron is an essential micronutrient that limits primary productivity in much of the ocean, including the Gulf of Alaska (GoA). However, the processes that transport iron to the ocean surface are poorly quantified. We combine satellite and meteorological data to provide the first description of widespread dust transport from coastal Alaska into the GoA. Dust is frequently transported from glacially-derived sediment at the mouths of several rivers, the most prominent of which is the Copper River. These dust events occur most frequently in autumn, when coastal river levels are low and riverbed sediments are exposed. The dust plumes are transported several hundred kilometers beyond the continental shelf into iron-limited waters. We estimate the mass of dust transported from the Copper River valley during one 2006 dust event to be between 25–80 ktons. Based on conservative estimates, this equates to a soluble iron loading of 30–200 tons. We suggest the soluble Fe flux from dust originating in glaciofluvial sediment deposits from the entire GoA coastline is two to three times larger, and is comparable to the annual Fe flux to GoA surface waters from eddies of coastal origin. Given that glaciers are retreating in the coastal GoA region and in other locations, it is important to examine whether fluxes of dust are increasing from glacierized landscapes to the ocean, and to assess the impact of associated Fe on marine ecosystems.
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