Balance and residence times of 210Pb and 210Po in surface waters of the northwestern Mediterranean Sea

P. Masqué, J. A. Sanchez-Cabeza, J. M. Bruach, E. Palacios, M. Canals

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Concentrations of the naturally occurring radionuclides 210Pb and 210Po were determined in both the dissolved (<0.2 μm) and particulate (>0.2 μm) fractions in surface waters of the northwestern Mediterranean Sea. About 4-8% of the 210Pb activity was observed to be associated to particles, which were determined as being mostly biogenic. The 210Po content in the particulate fraction was generally greater than that of 210Pb, accounting for about 20% of the total activity. Total activities of 210Pb and 210Po were found to be in equilibrium. 226Ra concentrations were also determined in an effort to investigate its occurrence in Mediterranean waters. 226Ra was in excess to both 210Pb and 210Po, with a mean concentration of 1.72 ± 0.03 Bq m-3. Steady-state balance equations of the three radionuclides permit calculation of residence times for 210Pb and 210Po in surface waters (0.8 and 3.0 yr, respectively). 210Po residence times were almost one order of magnitude higher than mostly reported values. Polonium is known to manifest higher affinity and different binding mechanisms (by entering the organic cycle) to biogenic material than 210Pb. Several processes, such as 210Po uptake by buoyant particles and recycling of organic matter in the surface layer, could lead to such long residence times of 210Po and, therefore, of organic particles in surface waters. Larger 210Po atmospheric fluxes than those here considered and inputs from rivers and/or fine-grained sediment resuspension could also help to explain the observation, although presumably to a lesser extent. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2127-2146
JournalContinental Shelf Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2002


  • 1°W-6°E
  • 210 Pb
  • 210 Po
  • 226 Ra
  • 37.5-44°N
  • Northwestern mediterranean
  • Residence times


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