Isotopes illustrate vertical transport of anthropogenic Pb by reversible scavenging within Pacific Ocean particle veils. Academic Article uri icon


  • Reversible scavenging, the oceanographic process by which dissolved metals exchange onto and off sinking particles and are thereby transported to deeper depths, has been well established for the metal thorium for decades. Reversible scavenging both deepens the elemental distribution of adsorptive elements and shortens their oceanic residence times in the ocean compared to nonadsorptive metals, and scavenging ultimately removes elements from the ocean via sedimentation. Thus, it is important to understand which metals undergo reversible scavenging and under what conditions. Recently, reversible scavenging has been invoked in global biogeochemical models of a range of metals including lead, iron, copper, and zinc to fit modeled data to observations of oceanic dissolved metal distributions. Nonetheless, the effects of reversible scavenging remain difficult to visualize in ocean sections of dissolved metals and to distinguish from other processes such as biological regeneration. Here, we show that particle-rich "veils" descending from high-productivity zones in the equatorial and North Pacific provide idealized illustrations of reversible scavenging of dissolved lead (Pb). A meridional section of dissolved Pb isotope ratios across the central Pacific shows that where particle concentrations are sufficiently high, such as within particle veils, vertical transport of anthropogenic surface-dissolved Pb isotope ratios toward the deep ocean is manifested as columnar isotope anomalies. Modeling of this effect shows that reversible scavenging within particle-rich waters allows anthropogenic Pb isotope ratios from the surface to penetrate ancient deep waters on timescales sufficiently rapid to overcome horizontal mixing of deep water Pb isotope ratios along abyssal isopycnals.

published proceedings

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

author list (cited authors)

  • Lanning, N. T., Jiang, S., Amaral, V. J., Mateos, K., Steffen, J. M., Lam, P. J., Boyle, E. A., & Fitzsimmons, J. N.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Lanning, Nathan T||Jiang, Shuo||Amaral, Vinicius J||Mateos, Katherine||Steffen, Janelle M||Lam, Phoebe J||Boyle, Edward A||Fitzsimmons, Jessica N

publication date

  • June 2023