The high fluxes of iron minerals associated with aeolian dry deposition may result in an anomalously high reactive iron content and the rapid reoxidation of hydrogen sulfide in sediments. This will prevent the formation of pyrite and result in a ‘cryptic’ sulfur cycle. We studied the cycling of iron and sulfur in deep water (>800 m water depth) sediments of the Red Sea and its northern extension, the Gulf of Aqaba. We found that the reactive iron content in the surface sediments of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea is high, whereas the amount of sulfur-bound iron is very low and decreases with the water depth. The presence of trace amounts of pyrite and zero-valent sulfur, as well as the isotopic compositions of sulfate and pyrite, which are consistent with sulfate reduction under substrate-limiting conditions, suggest that cryptic sulfur cycling is likely to be a result of the rapid reoxidation of hydrogen sulfide rather than the suppression of microbial sulfate reduction. The low amount of reactive iron and high organic carbon content in the sediments of the Shaban Deep, which are overlain by hypersaline hydrothermal brines, result in a non-cryptic sulfur cycle characterized by the preservation of pyrite in the sediments.

Supplementary material: Data for sulfur speciation, iron speciation and sulfur isotope composition are available at

Thematic collection: This article is part of the Sulfur in the Earth system collection available at:

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