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Thorium-234 as a tracer of spatial, temporal and vertical variability in particle flux in the North Pacific

Deep Sea Research Part I Oceanographic Research Papers
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.dsr.2009.04.001
  • Thorium-234
  • Particle Flux
  • Sediment Trap
  • Scavenging
  • North Pacific


Abstract An extensive 234Th data set was collected at two sites in the North Pacific: ALOHA, an oligotrophic site near Hawaii, and K2, a mesotrophic HNLC site in the NW Pacific as part of the VERTIGO (VERtical Transport In the Global Ocean) study. Total 234Th: 238U activity ratios near 1.0 indicated low particle fluxes at ALOHA, while 234Th: 238U ∼0.6 in the euphotic zone at K2 indicated higher particle export. However, spatial variability was large at both sites—even greater than seasonal variability as reported in prior studies. This variability in space and time confounds the use of single profiles of 234Th for sediment trap calibration purposes. At K2, there was a decrease in export flux and increase in 234Th activities over time associated with the declining phase of a summer diatom bloom, which required the use of non-steady state models for flux predictions. This variability in space and time confounds the use of single profiles of 234Th for sediment trap calibration purposes. High vertical resolution profiles show narrow layers (20–30 m) of excess 234Th below the deep chlorophyll maximum at K2 associated with particle remineralization resulting in a decrease in flux at depth that may be missed with standard sampling for 234Th and/or with sediment traps. Also, the application of 234Th as POC flux tracer relies on accurate sampling of particulate POC/ 234Th ratios and here the ratio is similar on sinking particles and mid-sized particles collected by in-situ filtration (>10–50 μm at ALOHA and >5–350 μm at K2). To further address variability in particle fluxes at K2, a simple model of the drawdown of 234Th and nutrients is used to demonstrate that while coupled during export, their ratios in the water column will vary with time and depth after export. Overall these 234Th data provide a detailed view into particle flux and remineralization in the North Pacific over time and space scales that are varying over days to weeks, and 10's–100's km at a resolution that is difficult to obtain with other methods.

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