Dissolved iron is an essential micronutrient for marine phytoplankton, and its availability controls patterns of primary productivity and carbon cycling throughout the oceans. The relative importance of different sources of iron to the oceans is not well known, however, and flux estimates from atmospheric dust, hydrothermal vents and oceanic sediments vary by orders of magnitude. Here we present a high-resolution transect of dissolved stable iron isotope ratios (δ56Fe) and iron concentrations ([Fe]) along a section of the North Atlantic Ocean. The different iron sources can be identified by their unique δ56Fe signatures, which persist throughout the water column. This allows us to calculate the relative contribution from dust, hydrothermal venting and reductive and non-reductive sedimentary release to the dissolved phase. We find that Saharan dust aerosol is the dominant source of dissolved iron along the section, contributing 71–87 per cent of dissolved iron.

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