Sulfur terminal: Piles of yellow sulfur at a terminal near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The sulfur is brought by rail from oil and natural gas processing facilities in the Province of Alberta. At this terminal it is loaded onto barges and ships for bulk transport. Photo © iStockphoto / teekaygee.
Sulfur fumarole: As hot volcanic gases, rich in sulfur, escape from a volcanic vent, the gases cool and sulfur is deposited as yellow crystals around the vent. This fumarole on the island of Kunashir (in the Kuril Islands, northeast of the Japanese island of Hokkaido) has a significant accumulation of bright yellow sulfur. Photo © iStockphoto / Sergey Dubrovskiy.
|Did You Know?
Many strong odors are produced by sulfur compounds. The smell of skunks, matches, garlic, grapefruit, and rotten eggs are caused by sulfur. Image © iStockphoto / Florintt, Gio_banfi, Abomb Industries Design, ivelly, and Big_Ryan.
What is Sulfur?
Sulfur is an abundant and common element, but it is rarely found in a pure, uncombined form at Earth's surface. As an element, sulfur is an important constituent of sulfate and sulfide minerals. It occurs in the dissolved ions of many waters. It is an important constituent of many atmospheric, subsurface, and dissolved gases. It is also an essential element in all living things and is contained in the organic molecules of fossil fuels.
As a mineral, sulfur is a bright yellow crystalline material. It is found near volcanic vents, where it sublimates from escaping volcanic gases and precipitates from hot spring waters. It is found in small amounts as a weathering product of sulfate and sulfide minerals. The largest accumulations of mineral sulfur are found in the subsurface, associated with the evaporite minerals of salt domes. It is thought to be released from gypsum and anhydrite by bacterial action.