The mean age of ocean waters inferred from radiocarbon observations : sensitivity to surface sources and accounting for mixing histories
Gebbie, Geoffrey A.
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KeywordNorth Pacific Ocean; Mass fluxes/transport; Ocean circulation; Tracers; Optimization; Variational analysis
A number of previous observational studies have found that the waters of the deep Pacific Ocean have an age, or elapsed time since contact with the surface, of 700–1000 yr. Numerical models suggest ages twice as old. Here, the authors present an inverse framework to determine the mean age and its upper and lower bounds given Global Ocean Data Analysis Project (GLODAP) radiocarbon observations, and they show that the potential range of ages increases with the number of constituents or sources that are included in the analysis. The inversion requires decomposing the World Ocean into source waters, which is obtained here using the total matrix intercomparison (TMI) method at up to 2° × 2° horizontal resolution with 11 113 surface sources. The authors find that the North Pacific at 2500-m depth can be no younger than 1100 yr old, which is older than some previous observational estimates. Accounting for the broadness of surface regions where waters originate leads to a reservoir-age correction of almost 100 yr smaller than would be estimated with a two or three water-mass decomposition and explains some of the discrepancy with previous observational studies. A best estimate of mean age is also presented using the mixing history along circulation pathways. Subject to the caveats that inference of the mixing history would benefit from further observations and that radiocarbon cannot rule out the presence of extremely old waters from exotic sources, the deep North Pacific waters are 1200–1500 yr old, which is more in line with existing numerical model results.
Author Posting. © American Meteorological Society, 2012. This article is posted here by permission of American Meteorological Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Physical Oceanography 42 (2012): 291–305, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-11-043.1.
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