Controls on Dissolved Barium and Radium-226 Distributions in the Pacific Ocean Along GEOTRACES GP15

Radium-226(226Ra) and barium (Ba) exhibit similar chemical behaviors and distributions in the marine environment, serving as valuable tracers of water masses, ocean mixing, and productivity. Despite their similar distributions, these elements originate from distinct sources and undergo disparate biogeochemical cycles, which might complicate the use of these tracers. In this study, we investigate these processes by analyzing a full-depth ocean section of 226Ra activities (T1/2 = 1,600 years) and barium concentrations obtained from samples collected along the US GEOTRACES GP15 Pacific Meridional Transect during September–November 2018, spanning from Alaska to Tahiti. We find that surface waters possess low levels of 226Ra and Ba due to export of sinking particulates, surpassing inputs from the continental margins. In contrast, deep waters have higher 226Ra activities and Ba concentrations due to inputs from particle regeneration and sedimentary sources, with 226Ra inputs primarily resulting from the decay of 230Th in sediments. Further, dissolved 226Ra and Ba exhibit a strong correlation along the GP15 section. To elucidate the drivers of the correlation, we used a water mass analysis, enabling us to quantify the influence of water mass mixing relative to non-conservative processes. While a significant fraction of each element's distribution can be explained by conservative mixing, a considerable fraction cannot. The balance is driven using non-conservative processes, such as sedimentary, rivers, or hydrothermal inputs, uptake and export by particles, and particle remineralization. Our study demonstrates the utility of 226Ra and Ba as valuable biogeochemical tracers for understanding ocean processes, while shedding light on conservative and myriad non-conservative processes that shape their respective distributions.

Key Points

Water mass analysis shows significant shallow deficits and deep excesses of dissolved 226Ra and Ba in the Pacific Ocean along the GP15

Shallow deficits seem driven by BaSO4 precipitation, deep excesses reflect benthic inputs that are more significant for 226Ra than for Ba

Budgets suggest that regional barium fluxes nearly balance, and the Pacific is likely a significant source of radium-226 to the global ocean


GEOTRACES, radium, barium, Pacific

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Le Roy Emilie, Charette Matthew A., Henderson Paul B., Shiller Alan M., Moore Willard S., Kemnitz Nathaniel, Hammond Douglas E., Horner Tristan J. (2024). Controls on Dissolved Barium and Radium-226 Distributions in the Pacific Ocean Along GEOTRACES GP15. Global Biogeochemical Cycles. 38 (6). e2023GB008005 (22p.).,

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