Abstract : The importance of the atmospheric deposition of biologically essential trace elements, especially iron, is widely recognized, as are the difficulties of accurately quantifying the rates of trace element wet and dry deposition and their fractional solubility. This paper summarizes some of the recent progress in this field, particularly that driven by the GEOTRACES, and other, international research programmes. The utility and limitations of models used to estimate atmospheric deposition flux, for example, from the surface ocean distribution of tracers such as dissolved aluminium, are discussed and a relatively new technique for quantifying atmospheric deposition using the short-lived radionuclide beryllium-7 is highlighted. It is proposed that this field will advance more rapidly by using a multi-tracer approach, and that aerosol deposition models should be ground-truthed against observed aerosol concentration data. It is also important to improve our understanding of the mechanisms and rates that control the fractional solubility of these tracers. Aerosol provenance and chemistry (humidity, acidity and organic ligand characteristics) play important roles in governing tracer solubility. Many of these factors are likely to be influenced by changes in atmospheric composition in the future. Intercalibration exercises for aerosol chemistry and fractional solubility are an essential component of the GEOTRACES programme. This article is part of the themed issue 'Biological and climatic impacts of ocean trace element chemistry'.