Isopycnal Transport and Scavenging of 230Th and 231Pa in the Pacific Southern Ocean

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The Southern Ocean hosts complex connections between ocean physics, chemistry, and biology. Changes in these connections are hypothesized to be responsible for significant alterations of ocean biogeochemistry and carbon storage both on glacial-interglacial timescales and in the future due to anthropogenic forcing. Isotopes of thorium (230Th and 232Th) and protactinium (231Pa) have been widely applied as tools to study paleoceanographic conditions in the Southern Ocean. However, understanding of the chemical behavior of these isotopes in the modern Southern Ocean has been limited by a paucity of high-resolution observations. In this study, we present measurements of dissolved 230Th, 231Pa, and 232Th on a meridional transect along 170°W from 67°S to 54°S in the Pacific sector of the Southern Ocean, with high vertical and meridional sampling resolution. We find Th/Pa fractionation factors below 1, highlighting the preferential removal of Pa relative to Th in a region with low lithogenic inputs where the particle flux is dominated by biogenic opal. We also find steep gradients in all three of these isotopes along neutral density surfaces from north to south, demonstrating the importance of isopycnal mixing in transporting these nuclides to the Southern Ocean. Our results suggest that 231Pa and 230Th in the Southern Ocean are highly sensitive tracers of physical transport that may find use in studies of Southern Ocean biogeochemical-physical connections in the past, present, and future.

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Global Biogeochemical Cycles