Thorium isotopes tracing the iron cycle at the Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station ALOHA Academic Article uri icon


  • 2015 Elsevier Ltd. The role of iron as a limiting micronutrient motivates an effort to understand the supply and removal of lithogenic trace metals in the ocean. The long-lived thorium isotopes (232Th and 230Th) in seawater can be used to quantify the input of lithogenic metals attributable to the partial dissolution of aerosol dust. Thus, Th can help in disentangling the Fe cycle by providing an estimate of its ultimate supply and turnover rate. Here we present time-series (1994-2014) data on thorium isotopes and iron concentrations in seawater from the Hawaii Ocean Time-series Station ALOHA. By comparing Th-based dissolved Fe fluxes with measured dissolved Fe inventories, we derive Fe residence times of 6-12months for the surface ocean. Therefore, Fe inventories in the surface ocean are sensitive to seasonal changes in dust input. Ultrafiltration results further reveal that Th has a much lower colloidal content than Fe does, despite a common source. On this basis, we suggest Fe colloids may be predominantly organic in composition, at least at Station ALOHA. In the deep ocean (>2km), Fe approaches a solubility limit while Th, surprisingly, is continually leached from lithogenic particles. This distinction has implications for the relevance of Fe ligand availability in the deep ocean, but also suggests Th is not a good tracer for Fe in deep waters. While uncovering divergent behavior of these elements in the water column, this study finds that dissolved Th flux is a suitable proxy for the supply of Fe from dust in the remote surface ocean.

published proceedings

  • Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta

altmetric score

  • 33.644

author list (cited authors)

  • Hayes, C. T., Fitzsimmons, J. N., Boyle, E. A., McGee, D., Anderson, R. F., Weisend, R., & Morton, P. L.

citation count

  • 42

complete list of authors

  • Hayes, Christopher T||Fitzsimmons, Jessica N||Boyle, Edward A||McGee, David||Anderson, Robert F||Weisend, Rachel||Morton, Peter L

publication date

  • November 2015