Radium isotope distributions during the US GEOTRACES North Atlantic cruises Academic Article uri icon


  • Radium isotopes are produced in sediments via the decay of thorium isotopes and are generally soluble in seawater. As such, isotopes of the radium quartet (224Ra, 223Ra, 228Ra, 226Ra) have been used as tracers of ocean boundary inputs and mixing processes. We measured radium isotopes on the US GEOTRACES North Atlantic cruises in 2010 and 2011, which crossed a number of key ocean boundary features including the Mediterranean outflow, the Mauritanian upwelling and oxygen minimum zones (OMZ) along western Africa, a hydrothermal plume over the mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR), and the broad continental margin of the north-eastern United States. Radium isotope features at these locations are discussed in the context of their potential to quantify fluxes of trace elements and isotopes (TEIs) from common sources. Notable observations include: (1) a Mediterranean outflow spreading rate of 0.52-0.60cm/s derived from 228Ra, (2) evidence of substantial sediment-water interaction in the benthic boundary layer along the OMZ, (3) decoupling between 223Ra and the other Ra isotope sources over the MAR, and (4) significant continental inputs (e.g. submarine groundwater discharge-SGD) in the western Atlantic. Lastly, 228Ra inventories have remained constant over the past 30years, which suggests that SGD is steady-state for the North Atlantic on decadal time scales.

publication date

  • December 2015