Fe(CN)6(-3) oxidation of the aerobically isolated 7Fe Azotobacter vinelandii ferredoxin I, (7Fe)FdI, is a degradative reaction. Destruction of the [4Fe-4S] cluster occurs first, followed by destruction of the [3Fe-3S] cluster. At a Fe(CN)6(-3)/(7Fe)FdI concentration ratio of 20, the product is a mixture of apoprotein and protein containing only a [3Fe-3S] cluster, (3Fe)FdI. This protein mixture, after partial purification, has been characterized by absorption, CD, magnetic CD, and EPR and Fe x-ray absorption spectroscopies. EPR and magnetic CD spectra provide strong evidence that the [3Fe-3S] cluster in (3Fe)FdI is essentially identical in structure to that in (7Fe)FdI. Analysis of the extended x-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) of (3Fe)FdI finds Fe scattering at an average Fe...Fe distance of approximately equal to 2.7 A. The structure of the oxidized [3Fe-3S] cluster in solutions of oxidized (3Fe)FdI, and, by extension, of oxidized (7Fe)FdI, is thus different from that obtained by x-ray crystallography on oxidized (7Fe)FdI. Possible interpretations of this result are discussed.