Concentrations and isotopic ratios of thorium and uranium in pelagic sediments

The predictable in situ production of 230Th from the decay of uranium in seawater, and its subsequent removal by scavenging onto falling particles, provides a valuable tool for normalizing fluxes to the seafloor. We describe a new application, determination of the 232Th that dissolves in the water column and is removed to the seafloor. 232Th is supplied to the ocean in continental minerals, dissolution of which leads to a measurable standing stock in the water column. Sedimentary adsorbed 232Th/230Th ratios have the potential to provide a proxy for estimating the amount of dissolved material that enters the ocean, both today and in the past. Ten core top samples were treated with up to eight different leaching techniques in order to determine the best method for the separating adsorbed from lattice bound thorium. In addition, separate components of the sediments were analyzed to test whether clay dissolution was an important contribution to the final measurement. There was no systematic correlation between the strength of acid used in the leach and the measured 232Th/230Th ratios. In all cases clean foraminifera produced the same ratio as leaches on bulk sediment. In three out of five samples leaches performed on non-carbonate detritus in the <63 µm size fraction were also identical. Without additional water column data it is not yet clear whether there is a simple one to one correlation between the expected deep-water 232Th/230Th and that produced by leaching, especially in carbonate-rich sediments. However, higher ratios, and associated high 232Th adsorbed fluxes, were observed in areas with high expected detrital inputs. The adsorbed fraction was ~35-50% of the total 232Th in seven out of ten samples. Our 230Th normalized 232Th fluxes are reasonable by comparison to global estimates of detrital inputs to the ocean. In nine cases out of ten, the total 230Th-normalized 232Th flux is greater than predicted from the annual dust fall at each specific location, but lower than the average global detrital input from all sources.

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CC BY 4.0