The ability of paired measurements of thorium isotope activity and particle concentration to constrain rate constants of sorption reactions and particle dynamics in the ocean is examined. This study is motivated by GEOTRACES and other sampling programs where Th and particle data are gathered in various oceanic environments. Our approach relies on inversions with a model of trace metal and particle cycling in the water column. First, the model is used to simulate vertical profiles of (i) the activity of three Th isotopes (228,230,234Th) in the dissolved phase, small suspended particles, and large sinking particles, and (ii) the concentration of small and large particles. The simulated profiles are then subsampled and corrupted with noise to generate a pseudo data set. These data are combined with the model with arbitrary values of rate constants of Th adsorption, Th desorption, particle sinking, particle remineralization, and particle (dis)aggregation in an effort to recover the actual values used to generate the data. Inversions are performed using a least-squares technique with varying assumptions about data noise, data sampling, and model errors.
We find that accurate and precise recovery of rate parameters is possible when all data have a relative error of less than 20%, vertical sampling is dense enough to resolve activity and concentration gradients, and model errors are negligible. Estimating cycling rates from data with larger errors and (or) at locations where model assumptions are not tenable would remain challenging. On the other hand, the paired data set would improve significantly the relative precision of rate parameters compared to that of prior estimates (?100%), even with current data uncertainties and significant model errors. Based on these results, we advocate the joint measurement of all three Th isotopes, 228Ra, and particles collected by in situ filtration within GEOTRACES and other sampling programs targeted at the study of particle processes in the ocean.