Collaborative Research: U.S. GEOTRACES GP17-OCE and GP17-ANT: Thorium-230, Thorium-232 and Protactinium-231 as Tracers of Trace Element Supply and Removal

Lead PI: Dr. Robert F. Anderson

Unit Affiliation: Geochemistry, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

July 2021 - June 2024
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: The goal of the international GEOTRACES program is to understand the distributions of trace chemical elements and their isotopes in the oceans. Many trace elements are essential for life and are thought to limit biological productivity throughout much of the ocean. This limitation, in turn, partly controls the ability of the ocean to support other marine life as well as the ocean's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This project will provide constraints on the processes that supply and remove trace elements in the South Pacific Ocean and Amundsen Sea which are currently not well quantified. Naturally occurring radioactive isotopes such as thorium-230 and protactinium-231, which will be measured as a part of this work, can be utilized as proxies to provide critical information about the processes that supply iron and other micronutrient elements, as well as the rates of those processes. The isotope thorium-232 will also be utilized as a tracer of the supply of elements that are added to the ocean through the deposition of aerosol dust and from coastal sediments. These rates and fluxes can be used to improve our understanding of the micro-nutrient iron and the sinking fluxes of carbon which are both critical in the global carbon cycle. Outreach and broader impacts will be achieved through undergraduate and graduate teaching, community events such as the Ocean Sciences Bowl and other efforts through the international GEOTRACES program.

This project will provide support for four collaborating labs (University of Southern Mississippi, University of Minnesota, Lamont-Doherty at Columbia University and CalTech) to undertake measurements on two US GEOTRACES cruises in the South Pacific, known as GP17 (GP17-OCE running from Tahiti south to the marginal sea ice zone and GP17-ANT focusing on the Amundsen margin). The PIs will measure dissolved and particulate concentrations of Th-230 and Pa-231. In addition, they will measure dissolved and particulate Th-232 concentrations and analyze a limited number of aerosol samples, aerosol leachates, colloidal size fractions and surface sediments for these radionuclides. They will be used to quantify trace element supply, including sedimentary inputs from the Amundsen Sea’s glacial meltwater pump and atmospheric dust inputs in one of the world’s lowest dust input regions. Additionally, the team will be able to quantify trace element removal, including sinking particulate fluxes for carbon, as well as trace elements, and scavenging characteristics of variable particle composition regimes. These goals also contribute to assessing Th and Pa as key palaeoceanographic proxies.