Rare Earth Element Distribution in the NE Atlantic: Evidence for benthic sources, longevity of the seawater signal, and biogeochemical cycling.

Seawater rare earth element (REE) concentrations are increasingly applied to reconstruct water mass histories by exploiting relative changes in the distinctive normalised patterns. However, the mechanisms by which water masses gain their patterns are yet to be fully explained.

To examine this, we collected water samples along the Extended Ellett Line (EEL), an oceanographic transect between Iceland and Scotland, and measured dissolved REE by offline automated chromatography (SeaFAST) and ICP-MS.

The proximity to two continental boundaries, the incipient spring bloom coincident with the timing of the cruise, and the importance of deep water circulation in this climatically sensitive gateway region make it an ideal location to investigate sources of REE to seawater and the effects of vertical cycling and lateral advection on their distribution. The deep waters have REE concentrations closest to typical North Atlantic seawater and are dominated by lateral advection. Comparison to published seawater REE concentrations of the same water masses in other locations provides a first measure of the temporal and spatial stability of the seawater REE signal. We demonstrate the REE pattern is replicated for Iceland-Scotland Overflow Water (ISOW) in the Iceland Basin from adjacent stations sampled 16 years previously. A recently published Labrador Sea Water (LSW) dissolved REE signal is reproduced in the Rockall Trough but shows greater light and mid REE alteration in the Iceland Basin, possibly due to the dominant effect of ISOW and/or continental inputs. An obvious concentration gradient from seafloor sediments to the overlying water column in the Rockall Trough, but not the Iceland Basin, highlights release of light and mid REE from resuspended sediments and pore waters, possibly a seasonal effect associated with the timing of the spring bloom in each basin. The EEL dissolved oxygen minimum at the permanent pycnocline corresponds to positive heavy REE enrichment, indicating maximum rates of organic matter remineralisation and associated REE release.

We tentatively suggest a bacterial role to account for the observed heavy REE deviations. This study highlights the need for fully constrained REE sources and sinks, including the temporary nature of some sources, to achieve a balanced budget of seawater REE.


Crocket, K., E. Hill, R. Abell, C. Johnson, S. Gary, T. Brand and E. Hathorne

Frontiers in Marine Science, 5
04, 30, 2018
DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00147