Science Highlights

South Pacific particulate organic carbon fate challenges Martin’s Law

Joint Science Highlight with PAGES.

Carbon storage in the ocean is sensitive to the depths at which particulate organic carbon (POC) is respired back to CO2 within the twilight zone (100-1000m). For decades, it has been an oceanographic priority to determine the depth scale of this regeneration process. To investigate this, GEOTRACES scientists are deploying new isotopic tools that provide a high-resolution snapshot of POC flux and regeneration across steep biogeochemical gradients in the South Pacific Ocean.

A recent paper in PNAS reported on particulate organic carbon (POC) fluxes throughout the water column (focusing on the upper 1000 m) along the GP16 GEOTRACES section between Peru and Tahiti (Figure 1A). POC fluxes (Figure 1B) were derived by normalizing concentrations of POC to 230Th following analysis of samples collected by in situ filtration. This work builds on a research theme initiated at the GEOTRACES-OCB synthesis workshop held at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in 2016.

The study results show that POC regeneration depth is shallower than anticipated, especially in warm stratified waters of the subtropical gyre. Regeneration depth—expressed in terms of the Martin-curve power-law exponent “b” (Figure 1C)—is shown to be greater than previous estimates (horizontal dashed lines), but similar to values obtained using neutrally buoyant sediment traps at the Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station Aloha. In contrast to the rapid regeneration of POC in warm stratified waters, POC regeneration within the oxygen deficient zone (ODZ) is below our detection limits. Models have shown that shallower regeneration of POC leads to less efficient carbon storage in the ocean, making the authors speculate that global warming, yielding expanded and more stratified gyres, may induce a reduction of the ocean's efficacy for carbon storage via the biological pump.

Pavia, et al. 2019

Figure: Site map and POC flux characteristics from GEOTRACES GP16 section. Plot A) shows the GP16 station locations as white circles, with nearby sediment trap deployments as black stars, with 2013 MODIS satellite-derived net primary productivity in the background. Plot B) shows POC fluxes from particulate 230Th-normalization from selected stations spanning the zonal extent of the GP16 section. Plot C) shows power law exponent b values for each GP16 station (blue), compared to estimates from bottom-moored sediment traps in the South Pacific (black and red dashed lines), a compilation of sediment traps in the North Pacific (green dashed line), and neutrally buoyant sediment traps in the subtropical North Pacific (yellow shaded band). GP16 regeneration length scales from 230Th-normalization agree most closely with the estimates from neutrally buoyant sediment traps.


Pavia, F. J., Anderson, R. F., Lam, P. J., Cael, B. B., Vivancos, S. M., Fleisher, M. Q., Lu, Y., Zhang, P., Cheng, H., Edwards, R. L. (2019). Shallow particulate organic carbon regeneration in the South Pacific Ocean. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(20), 9753–9758.


About the decoupled fates of aluminium, manganese, cobalt and lead in the North Pacific Ocean

Did you know that each of these tracers could follow its own marine story, quite decoupled from the others?

This is what is shown and discussed by Zheng and co-workers (2019, see reference below) after having analysed about 500 samples for aluminium (Al), manganese (Mn), lead (Pb) and cobalt (Co) along three sections in the North Pacific Ocean. They demonstrate that the distribution of each element is uniquely related to ocean circulation; that the subsurface Pb maximum has been sustained in the North Pacific Ocean through the growth of anthropogenic sources in Asia and Russia, contrasting with the decrease observed in the Atlantic Ocean (please also read the science highlight from Bridgestock et al., 2016); that the labile fraction of particulate Al is larger than that of particulate lead; and finally that while the Pb enrichment factor confirms its predominant atmospheric origin, those of Mn and Co clearly attest that sources other than the aerosol deposition are more significant contributors to the concentrations of these two tracers.

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Figure: Sectional distributions of dissolved metals (dM) and potential density anomaly at depths of 0–1200 m along 160°W (section highlighted in red in the map). Dissolved aluminium (dAl) is high in Equatorial Under Current (EQ, 175 m depth) and North Equatorial Current (20°N, surface). Although dissolved manganese (dMn) and dissolved cobalt (dCo) have a concurrent source at the continental shelf of the Aleutian Islands, dCo is more widely distributed via North Pacific Intermediate Water (NPIW, ~600 m). Dissolved lead (dPb) is concentrated in Subtropical Mode Water and Central Mode Water above the NPIW. Adapted from Zheng et al., 2019. Click here to view the figure larger.


Zheng, L., Minami, T., Konagaya, W., Chan, C.-Y., Tsujisaka, M., Takano, S., Norisuye, K., Sohrin, Y. (2019). Distinct basin-scale-distributions of aluminum, manganese, cobalt, and lead in the North Pacific Ocean. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 254, 102–121. DOI:

Bridgestock, L., van de Flierdt, T., Rehkämper, M., Paul, M., Middag, R., Milne, A., Lohan, M.C., Baker, A.R., Chance, R.,, Khondoker, R., Strekopytov, S., Humphreys-Williams, E., Achterberg, E.P., Rijkenberg, M.J.A., Gerringa, L. J.A., de Baar, H. J. W. (2016). Return of naturally sourced Pb to Atlantic surface waters. Nature Communications, 7, 12921. doi:

A treasure of geochemical data to trace ocean circulation, ventilation, mixing, biogeochemical and hydrothermal processes

This treasure is made of approximately 60,000 valid tritium measurements, 63,000 valid helium isotope determinations, 57,000 dissolved helium concentrations, and 34,000 dissolved neon concentrations, including their metadata (geographic location, date and sample depth). It was compiled by Bill Jenkins and co-workers (2019, see reference below) who describe the nature of the data, discuss their quality, list the contributors and pioneers, and of course are giving free access to this huge dataset ( They also provide some figures illustrating how powerful this new tool is as for example the figure below. 

Authors invite anyone with knowledge of additional tritium, helium, or neon data that has not been included, to please contact with details for inclusion in future versions of the data set.

19 Jenkins
(top) A map of helium values at approximately 2500 m depth. (bottom) A map of helium values at approximately 4000 m depth. The values plotted are simply an average of all measurements within a 1’ square between 3750 and 4250 dbar. Depths shallower than 4000 m are masked in gray, and sampling locations are indicated by light gray dots. Click here to view the figure larger.
3He is an extremely rare isotope that is a sensitive tracer of hydrothermal processes. Since it is both stable and chemically inert, it is detectable over great distances in the ocean. The two maps shown above are of the distribution of δ3He, a tracer of hydrothermal activity, at two levels in the deep ocean. The shallower one roughly corresponds to the depth of the mid-ocean ridge system, where the bulk of this hydrothermal injection takes place. One can see the dominant role of the fast-spreading ridges in the eastern Pacific, which drive two massive, westward reaching plumes north and south of the equator. The deeper horizon shows the spreading of δ3He-impoverished bottom waters from the northern and southern polar regions into the deep ocean basins.


Jenkins, W. J., Doney, S. C., Fendrock, M., Fine, R., Gamo, T., Jean-Baptiste, P., Key, R., Klein, B., Lupton, J. E., Newton, R., Rhein, M., Roether, W., Sano, Y., Schlitzer, R., Schlosser, P. Swift, J. (2019). A comprehensive global oceanic dataset of helium isotope and tritium measurements. Earth System Science Data, 11(2), 441–454. DOI:

On the optimal use of the seaFAST system

Do you wish to improve your recoveries, blanks or any other parameter of your seawater preconcentration system (seaFAST)? Or are you simply curious about it? Wuttig and co-workers (2019, see reference below) propose a critical evaluation of this system’s capabilities. They perform an impressive list of tests including system conditioning, improving blank levels, finding the optimal pH of the buffer, improving preconcentration factors for different sample matrices, estimating memory effects, the initial sample salinity and UV oxidation effects on trace element concentrations. These tests considered an array of trace elements (cadmium, cobalt, copper, iron, gallium, manganese, nickel, lead, titanium and zinc) using SF-ICP-MS with data validation for some of these trace elements by flow injection analysis (iron, manganese) and/or GEOTRACES (n=42 for GSP and GSC) reference samples. They eventually make a long and useful list of recommendations for an optimal use of the system.

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Figure: During this work, a commercially available seaFAST preconcentration system combined with sector-field inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (SF-ICP-MS) was utilised to measure six reference seawaters (SAFe S, D1 and D2; GEOTRACES GD, GSC and GSP) 3-42 times each. In this figure, our measured values were compared to the consensus values for copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn) and Titanium (Ti). Titanium is a novel element for this system with limited consensus values available and was compared to values determined with voltammetry by Croot, 2011. Errors are presented as 1 standard deviation (σ) for both consensus and the measured values. Note different scales for Ti. 


Wuttig, K., Townsend, A. T., van der Merwe, P., Gault-Ringold, M., Holmes, T., Schallenberg, C., Latour, P., Tonnard, M., Rijkenberg, M. J.A., Lannuzel, D., Bowie, A. R. (2019). Critical evaluation of a seaFAST system for the analysis of trace metals in marine samples. Talanta, 197, 653–668. DOI:

Croot, P.L., Rapid determination of picomolar titanium in seawater with catalytic cathodic stripping voltammetry, Anal Chem 83(16) (2011) 6395-400.

Fate of different iron phases along the Lena river plume in the Arctic Ocean

Separation of the particulate (> 0:22 μm), colloidal (0.22 μm–1 kDa), and truly dissolved (< 1 kDa) fractions of iron (Fe) was carried out along the 600 km mixing between the Lena river and the Laptev seawater. While 99% of the particulate Fe and 90% of the colloidal one are disappearing across the shelf, the truly dissolved Fe stays relatively constant along the Lena River plume. This could indicate that this truly dissolved fraction is an important source of bioavailable Fe, along with colloidal Fe, for the local Arctic phytoplankton. Conrad and co-workers (2019, see reference below) also determined the Fe isotopes (δ56Fe) on these fractions. Negative colloidal δ56Fe values close to the river mouth are evolving to positive values at the outermost stations (see figure below). The shelf is thus interpreted as a sink for Fe, the negative values representing reduced ferrihydrites. Contrastingly, the positive values would correspond to oxidized Fe oxyhydroxydes, that are remaining in the water column and tag the Fe isotopic signature of the Arctic Ocean.

19 Conrad

Figure: A) Sampling stations in the Arctic Ocean: The black dots mark the sampling stations in the Arctic Ocean. Along the Lena River–Laptev Sea transect (next to the map) we filtered the water samples with different techniques to separate the particles from the colloids and the truly dissolved phase. Iron concentrations and isotope ratios were measured on the different sizes, as well as in the sediments along the East Siberian Sea Shelf. B) The colloidal (CFe) and particulate (PFe) iron concentrations plotted vs. salinity: Particulate Fe is dominating the Fe system close to the river mouth at low salinities, but the increasing salinity along the freshwater plume promotes the flocculation and settling of particles and colloids. Therefore, the concentrations of PFe and CFe are equal at higher salinities. C) Iron-isotope values along the Lena River freshwater plume and the uppermost sediment of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS): Negative particulate and colloidal Fe-isotope values are lost during estuarine mixing and buried in the sediment, which shows a similar range of Fe isotope ratios. The positive colloidal Fe isotope values found in the outer plume are resistant to estuarine mixing and can be found in the Arctic Ocean. (Reprinted from Conrad, et al, 2019. Click here to view the image larger. 


Conrad, S., Ingri, J., Gelting, J., Nordblad, F., Engström, E., Rodushkin, I., Andersson, P. S., Porcelli, D., Gustafsson, Ö., Semiletov, I., Öhlander, B. (2019). Distribution of Fe isotopes in particles and colloids in the salinity gradient along the Lena River plume, Laptev Sea. Biogeosciences, 16(6), 1305–1319. DOI:

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 Data Assembly Centre (GDAC)


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