Timescales of hydrothermal scavenging in the South Pacific Ocean from 234Th, 230Th, and 228Th

Frank J. Pavia, Robert F. Anderson, Erin E. Black, Lauren E. Kipp, Sebastian M. Vivancos, Martin Q. Fleisher, Matthew A. Charette, Virginie Sanial, Willard S. Moore, Mikael Hult, Yanbin Lu, Hai Cheng, Pu Zhang, R. Lawrence Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Hydrothermal activity in the deep ocean generates plumes of metal-rich particles capable of removing certain trace elements from seawater by adsorption and sedimentation. This removal process, known as scavenging, can be probed using the insoluble radiogenic isotopes of thorium (Th), which are produced at a known rate in the water column via the decay of soluble uranium (234Th, 230Th) and radium (228Th) isotopes. We present dissolved and particulate measurements of these three thorium isotopes in a hydrothermal plume observed in the southeast Pacific Ocean on the GEOTRACES GP16 section. Since their half-lives vary from days (234Th) to years (228Th) to tens of thousands of years (230Th), the combination of their signals can be used to understand scavenging processes occurring on a wide range of timescales. Scavenging is a multi-step process involving adsorption and desorption onto particles, followed by particle aggregation, sinking, and eventual sedimentation. We use thorium isotopes to study how hydrothermal activity affects these steps. The rate constants for net adsorption of 234Th determined here are comparable to previous estimates from hydrothermal plumes in the Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans. The partitioning of 234Th and 230Th between large and small particles is more similar in the hydrothermal plume than above it, indicating faster aggregation of particles within the hydrothermal plume at stations nearby the East Pacific Rise than in waters outside the plume. In addition to rapid scavenging and aggregation near the ridge axis, we also infer continuous off-axis scavenging from observations and modeling of 228Th/228Ra activity ratios. The degree of depletion of the three thorium isotopes increases in order of half-life, with total 234Th activity close to that of its parent 238U, but 230Th showing nearly 70% depletion compared to expected values from reversible scavenging. By modeling the variations in depletion for the different isotopes, we show that much of the 230Th removal is inherited from scavenging events happening long before the most recent hydrothermal inputs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-156
Number of pages11
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Jan 15 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation ( OCE-1233688 to LDEO, OCE-1233903 to UMN), OCE-1232669 to WHOI, OCE-1231211 to USC) and an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to F.J.P. ( DGE-16-44869 ). We thank the captain, crew, and scientists aboard the R/V Thomas G. Thompson. Constructive comments from three anonymous reviewers greatly improved the quality of this manuscript. We are grateful to John Lupton for sharing Helios float trajectories, Ken Buesseler for overseeing the collection of the 234 Th data, and to Phoebe Lam and Kassandra Costa for helpful discussions.


  • East Pacific Rise
  • hydrothermal activity
  • scavenging
  • thorium

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