POC export from ocean surface waters by means of 234Th/238U and 210Po/210Pb disequilibria: A review of the use of two radiotracer pairs

Elisabet Verdeny, Pere Masqué, Jordi Garcia-Orellana, Claudia Hanfland, J. Kirk Cochran, Gillian M. Stewart

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58 Citations (Scopus)


234Th (T1/2=24.1 d) and 210Po (T1/2=138.4 d) are particle reactive radioisotopes that are used as tracers for particle cycling in the upper ocean. Particulate organic carbon (POC) export has frequently been estimated using 234Th/238U disequilibrium. Recent evidence suggests that 210Po/210Pb disequilibrium may be used as an additional tool to examine particle export, given the direct biological uptake of 210Po into cellular material. Differences in these two radioisotope pairs with regard to their half-lives, particle reactivity and scavenging affinity in seawater should provide complementary information to be obtained on the processes occurring in the water column. Here, we review eight different studies that have simultaneously used both approaches to estimate POC export fluxes from the surface ocean. Our aim is to provide a complete "dataset" of all the existing POC flux data derived from the coupled use of both 234Th and 210Po and to evaluate the advantages and limitations of each tracer pair. Our analysis suggests that the simultaneous use of both radiotracers provides more useful comparative data than can be derived from the use of a single tracer alone. The difference in half-lives of 234Th and 210Po enables the study of export production rates over different time scales. In addition, their different biogeochemical behaviour and preferred affinity for specific types of particles leads to the conclusion that 234Th is a better tracer of total mass flux, whereas 210Po tracks POC export more specifically. The synthesis presented here is also intended to provide a basis for planning future sampling strategies and promoting further work in this field to help reveal the more specific application of each tracer under specific water column biogeochemistries. © 2009.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1502-1518
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2009


  • Carbon flux
  • Export production
  • POC
  • Polonium
  • Thorium


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