Sulfur cycle

Part IV of "Matter cycles": The sulfur cycle

Sulphur is one of the components that make up proteins and vitamins. Proteins consist of amino acids that contain sulphur atoms. Sulphur is important for the functioning of proteins and enzymes in plants, and in animals that depend upon plants for sulphur. Plants absorb sulphur when it is dissolved in water. Animals consume these plants, so that they take up enough sulphur to maintain their health.

Most of the earth's sulphur is tied up in rocks and salts or buried deep in the ocean in oceanic sediments. Sulphur can also be found in the atmosphere. It enters the atmosphere through both natural and human sources. Natural recourses can be for instance volcanic eruptions, bacterial processes, evaporation from water, or decaying organisms. When sulphur enters the atmosphere through human activity, this is mainly a consequence of industrial processes where sulphur dioxide (SO2) and hydrogen sulphide (H2S) gases are emitted on a wide scale.
When sulphur dioxide enters the atmosphere it will react with oxygen to produce sulphur trioxide gas (SO3), or with other chemicals in the atmosphere, to produce sulphur salts. Sulphur dioxide may also react with water to produce sulphuric acid (H2SO4). Sulphuric acid may also be produced from demethylsulphide, which is emitted to the atmosphere by plankton species.
All these particles will settle back onto earth, or react with rain and fall back onto earth as acid deposition. The particles will than be absorbed by plants again and are released back into the atmosphere, so that the sulphur cycle will start over again.


A schematic representation of the sulphur cycle:

For more information on sulfur, move to the periodic chart

For more information about hydrogen sulphide in freshwater ecosystems



Back to the main page of matter cycles

To the matter cycles pollution page







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