Scavenging and transport of thorium radioisotopes in the North Atlantic Ocean

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Lerner, Paul
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Many chemical constituents are removed from the ocean by attachment to settling particles, a process referred to as “scavenging.” Radioisotopes of thorium, a highly particle-reactive element, have been used extensively to study scavenging in the ocean. However, this process is complicated by the highly variable chemical composition and concentration of particles in oceanic waters. This thesis focuses on understanding the cycling of thorium as affected by particle concentration and particle composition in the North Atlantic. This objective is addressed using (i) the distributions 228,230,234Th, their radioactive parents, particle composition, and bulk particle concentration, as measured or estimated along the GEOTRACES North Atlantic Transect (GA03) and (ii) a model for the reversible exchange of thorium with particles. Model parameters are either estimated by inversion (chapter 2-4), or prescribed in order to simulate 230Th in a circulation model (chapter 5). The major findings of this thesis follow. In chapters 2 and 3, I find that the rate parameters of the reversible exchange model show systematic variations along GA03. In particular, 𝑘1, the apparent first-order rate "constant" of Th adsorption onto particles, generally presents maxima in the mesopelagic zone and minima below. A positive correlation between 𝑘1 and bulk particle concentration is found, consistent with the notion that the specific rate at which a metal in solution attaches to particles increases with the number of surface sites available for adsorption. In chapter 4, I show that Mn (oxyhydr)oxides and biogenic particles most strongly influence 𝑘1 west of the Mauritanian upwelling, but that biogenic particles dominate 𝑘1 in this region. In chapter 5, I find that dissolved 230Th data are best represented by a model that assumes enhanced values of 𝑘1 near the seafloor. Collectively, my findings suggest that spatial variations in Th radioisotope activities observed in the North Atlantic reflect at least partly variations in the rate at which Th is removed from the water column.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution September 2018
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Lerner, P. (2018). Scavenging and transport of thorium radioisotopes in the North Atlantic Ocean [Doctoral thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution]. Woods Hole Open Access Server.
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