The Carbon:²³⁴Thorium ratios of sinking particles in the California Current Ecosystem 2: Examination of a thorium sorption, desorption, and particle transport model

2019-03-06T15:54:15Z (GMT) by Michael Stukel Thomas Kelly
Thorium-234 (234Th) is a powerful tracer of particle dynamics and the biological pump in the surface ocean; however, variability in carbon:thorium ratios of sinking particles adds substantial uncertainty to estimates of organic carbon export. We coupled a mechanistic thorium sorption and desorption model to a one-dimensional particle sinking model that uses realistic particle settling velocity spectra. The model generates estimates of 238U-234Th disequilibrium, particulate organic carbon concentration, and the C:234Th ratio of sinking particles, which are then compared to in situ measurements from quasi-Lagrangian studies conducted on six cruises in the California Current Ecosystem. Broad patterns observed in in situ measurements, including decreasing C:234Th ratios with depth and a strong correlation between sinking C:234Th and the ratio of vertically-integrated particulate organic carbon (POC) to vertically-integrated total water column 234Th, were accurately recovered by models assuming either a power law distribution of sinking speeds or a double log normal distribution of sinking speeds. Simulations suggested that the observed decrease in C:234Th with depth may be driven by preferential remineralization of carbon by particle-attached microbes. However, an alternate model structure featuring complete consumption and/or disaggregation of particles by mesozooplankton (e.g. no preferential remineralization of carbon) was also able to simulate decreasing C:234Th with depth (although the decrease was weaker), driven by 234Th adsorption onto slowly sinking particles. Model results also suggest that during bloom decays C:234Th ratios of sinking particles should be higher than expected (based on contemporaneous water column POC), because high settling velocities minimize carbon remineralization during sinking.