Exploring the connection between 210Po and organic matter in the northwestern Mediterranean

Gillian Stewart, J. Kirk Cochran, Jianhong Xue, Cindy Lee, Stuart G. Wakeham, Robert A. Armstrong, Pere Masqué, Juan Carlos Miquel

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The disequilibrium between 210Po and its grandparent 210Pb has been proposed as a tracer of the vertical flux of sinking particulate organic matter in the ocean. The mechanism of association between 210Po and organic matter is, however, still unclear. To investigate this association we measured trace metals, minerals, organic carbon, nitrogen, and the natural radioisotopes 234Th, 228Th, 210Po, and 210Pb in sinking particles collected in sediment traps at 200 m in the northwestern Mediterranean. Pigments, fatty acids, and amino acids were used to identify the types and sources of particulate organic matter. Multivariate analyses were used to determine which components of sinking particulate matter are traced by 210Po and/or by the 210Po/210Pb ratio. Statistical analysis of the results indicates that the distribution of polonium in sinking marine particles is influenced by fresh phytoplankton-derived, nitrogen-rich organic matter as well as sulfur-containing amino acids. These findings are consistent with previous laboratory observations that the distribution of 210Po in biota parallels the distributions of both sulfur and protein, and indicate that these associations persist as material sinks through the water column. While this research generally supports the use of 210Po as a specific tracer of the flux of organic matter, the signals traced by 210Po/210Pb and 234Th/238U are not as distinct in the field as in laboratory experiments. Further work is needed to determine more precisely what 210Po/210Pb traces in order to increase the correspondence of 210Po/210Pb measurements to biogeochemically important rates and quantities. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-427
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2007


  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Particulate organic carbon
  • Polonium
  • Protein
  • Thorium
  • Vertical flux


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