Articles | Volume 14, issue 13
Research article
04 Jul 2017
Research article |  | 04 Jul 2017

Improving the inverse modeling of a trace isotope: how precisely can radium-228 fluxes toward the ocean and submarine groundwater discharge be estimated?

Guillaume Le Gland, Laurent Mémery, Olivier Aumont, and Laure Resplandy

Abstract. Radium-228 (228Ra), an almost conservative trace isotope in the ocean, supplied from the continental shelves and removed by a known radioactive decay (T1∕2 = 5. 75 years), can be used as a proxy to constrain shelf fluxes of other trace elements, such as nutrients, iron, or rare earth elements. In this study, we perform inverse modeling of a global 228Ra dataset (including GEOSECS, TTO and GEOTRACES programs, and, for the first time, data from the Arctic and around the Kerguelen Islands) to compute the total 228Ra fluxes toward the ocean, using the ocean circulation obtained from the NEMO 3.6 model with a 2° resolution. We optimized the inverse calculation (source regions, cost function) and find a global estimate of the 228Ra fluxes of 8.01–8. 49 × 1023 atoms yr−1, more precise and around 20 % lower than previous estimates. The largest fluxes are in the western North Atlantic, the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, with roughly two-thirds in the Indo-Pacific Basin. An estimate in the Arctic Ocean is provided for the first time (0.43–0.50  ×  1023 atoms yr−1). Local misfits between model and data in the Arctic, the Gulf Stream and the Kuroshio regions could result from flaws of the ocean circulation in these regions (resolution, atmospheric forcing). As radium is enriched in groundwater, a large part of the 228Ra shelf sources comes from submarine groundwater discharge (SGD), a major but poorly known pathway for terrestrial mineral elements, including nutrients, to the ocean. In contrast to the 228Ra budget, the global estimate of SGD is rather unconstrained, between 1.3 and 14. 7 × 1013 m3 yr−1, due to high uncertainties on the other sources of 228Ra, especially diffusion from continental shelf sediments. Better precision on SGD cannot be reached by inverse modeling until a proper way to separate the contributions of SGD and diffusive release from sediments at a global scale is found.

Short summary
In this study, we computed the fluxes of radium-228 from the continental shelf to the open ocean by fitting a numerical model to observations. After determining appropriate model parameters (cost function and number of source regions), we found a lower and more precise global flux than previous estimates: 8.01–8.49×1023 atoms yr−1. This result can be used to assess nutrient and trace element fluxes to the open ocean, but we cannot identify specific pathways like submarine groundwater discharge.
Final-revised paper