Abstract The study of aerosols and rainwater presented here demonstrates that episodic atmospheric deposition events associated with southeasterly flow are quantitatively significant for large areas of the North Atlantic Ocean. This paper considers aluminium and manganese, with predominantly crustal sources, and lead and zinc, which are mobilised into the atmosphere primarily through anthropogenic activity. High levels of all trace metals are associated with southeasterly flow from Europe as the air passes over heavily populated and industrialised regions before reaching the northeast Atlantic Ocean. Fluxes calculated using the 1% HNO 3 acid soluble metal concentration show that, although the climatological norm for this area is westerly flow, short-lived southeasterly transport events dominate the input of trace metals to this ocean region. This material may be toxic to phytoplankton or may be represent a new source of nutrients to the biological community. A significant decrease in atmospheric lead levels in polluted air is seen between June 1996 and May 1997, reflecting the decrease in use of leaded fuels in Europe. Comparing atmospheric flux values to sediment trap metal fluxes shows that the atmosphere represents the dominant source of zinc to the deep ocean, whereas an additional, non-atmospheric, manganese source this required, perhaps from mobilisation of sedimentary material from the continental shelf or long range advection of manganese rich Saharan material.