Articles | Volume 6, issue 12
18 Dec 2009
 | 18 Dec 2009

Modelling the effect of boundary scavenging on Thorium and Protactinium profiles in the ocean

M. Roy-Barman

Abstract. The "boundary scavenging" box model is a cornerstone of our understanding of the particle-reactive radionuclide fluxes between the open ocean and the ocean margins. However, it does not describe the radionuclide profiles in the water column. Here, I present the transport-reaction equations for radionuclides transported vertically by reversible scavenging on settling particles and laterally by horizontal currents between the margin and the open ocean. Analytical solutions of these equations are compared with existing data. In the Pacific Ocean, the model produces "almost" linear 230Th profiles (as observed in the data) despite lateral transport. However, omitting lateral transport biaises the 230Th based particle flux estimates by as much as 50%. 231Pa profiles are well reproduced in the whole water column of the Pacific Margin and from the surface down to 3000 m in the Pacific subtropical gyre. Enhanced bottom scavenging or inflow of 231Pa-poor equatorial water may account for the model-data discrepancy below 3000 m. The lithogenic 232Th is modelled using the same transport parameters as 230Th but a different source function. The main source of the 232Th scavenged in the open Pacific is advection from the ocean margin, whereas a net flux of 230Th produced in the open Pacific is advected and scavenged at the margin, illustrating boundary exchange. In the Arctic Ocean, the model reproduces 230Th measured profiles that the uni-dimensional scavenging model or the scavenging-ventilation model failed to explain. Moreover, if lateral transport is ignored, the 230Th based particle settling speed may by underestimated by a factor 4 at the Arctic Ocean margin. The very low scavenging rate in the open Arctic Ocean combined with the enhanced scavenging at the margin accounts for the lack of high 231Pa/230Th ratio in arctic sediments.

Final-revised paper