Skip to main content Accessibility help

Age Constraints on Gulf of Mexico Deep Water Ventilation as Determined by 14C Measurements

  • Piers Chapman (a1), Steven F DiMarco (a1), Robert M Key (a2), Connie Previti (a1) and Shari Yvon-Lewis (a1)...


While the exchange of water through Yucatan Strait is reasonably well known, the age of the deep water in both the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico is not. We recently measured the radiocarbon (14C) concentrations in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico from a line of stations along 90°30′W. The mean apparent age of water below 900 m, the depth of the Florida Strait sill, was found to be about 740 yr relative to the 1950 14C standard. Depending on how the corrections for biological activity in the upper water are applied, this converts to a “true” age of between 231 ± 28 and 293 ± 74 yr. These ages agree with a previous estimate of the age of the deep water in the Gulf of Mexico based on heat flows, put upper limits on the age of the deep water in the Caribbean Sea, and provide constraints on modelers for the return of deep water from the Gulf of Mexico to the Caribbean. This might be important in the event of a future deep water oil or other chemical spill in the region.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email:


Hide All
Alvera-Azcarate, A, Barth, A, Weisberg, RH. 2009. The surface circulation of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico as inferred from satellite altimetry. Journal of Physical Oceanography 39:640657.
Badan, A, Candela, J, Sheinbaum, J, Ochoa, J. 2005. Upper-layer circulation in the approaches to Yucatan Channel. In: Sturges W, Lugo-Fernandez A, editors. Circulation in the Gulf of Mexico: Observations and Models. Geophysical Monographs 161. American Geophysical Union. p 5769.
Brewer, PG, Goldman, JC. 1976. Alkalinity changes generated by phytoplankton growth. Limnology and Oceanography 21:108117.
Broecker, WS. 1979. A revised estimate for the radiocarbon age of North Atlantic Deep Water. Journal of Geophysical Research 84:32183226.
Broecker, WS, Blanton, S, Smethie, WM Jr. 1991. Radiocarbon decay and oxygen utilization in the deep Atlantic Ocean. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 5:87117.
Broecker, WS, Sutherland, S, Smethie, W, Peng, T-H, Östlund, G. 1995. Oceanic radiocarbon: separation of the natural and bomb components. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 9:263288.
Broecker, WS, Peacock, SL, Walker, S, Weiss, R, Fahrbach, E, Schroeder, M, Mikolajewic, U, Heinze, C, Key, R, Peng, T-H, Rubin, S. 1998. How much deep water is formed in the Southern Ocean? Journal of Geophysical Research 103:15,833844.
Bunge, L, Ochoa, J, Badan, A, Candela, J, Sheinbaum, J. 2002. Deep flows in the Yucatan channel and their relation to changes in the Loop Current extension. Journal of Geophysical Research 107:3233. DOI: 10.1029/2001JC001256.
Candela, J, Tanahara, S, Crepon, M, Barnier, B, Sheinbaum, J. 2003. Yucatan Channel flow: observations versus CLIPPER ATL6 and MERCATOR PAM models. Journal of Geophysical Research 108:3385. DOI: 10.1029/2003JC001961.
Cherrier, J, Sarkodee-Adoo, J, Guilderson, TP, Chanton, JP. 2014. Fossil carbon inmparticulate organic matter in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon event. Environmental Science and Technology Letters 1:108112.
Cherubin, LM, Sturges, W, Chassignet, EP. 2005. Deep flow variability in the vicinity of the Yucatan Straits from a high-resolution numerical simulation. Journal of Geophysical Research 110:C04009. DOI: 10.1029/2004JC002280.
DeHann, CJ, Sturges, W. 2005. Deep cyclonic circulation in the Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Physical Oceanography 35:18011812.
Dickson, AG. 1981. An exact definition of total alkalinity and a procedure for the estimation of alkalinity and total inorganic carbon from titration data. Deep-Sea Research 28A:609623.
Dickson, AG, Afghan, JD, Anderson, GC. 2003. Reference materials for oceanic CO2 analysis: a method for the certification of total alkalinity. Marine Chemistry 80:185197.
Druffel, ERM. 2002. Radiocarbon in corals: records of the carbon cycle, surface circulation and climate. Oceanography 15(1):122127. DOI: 10.5670/oceanog.2002.43.
Elder, KL, McNichol, A, Gagnon, AR. 1998. Reproducibility of seawater, inorganic carbon 14C results at NOSAMS. Radiocarbon 40(1):223230.
Fratantoni, DM, Zantopp, RJ, Johns, WE, Miller, JL. 1997. Updated bathymetry of the Anagada-Jungfern Passage complex and implications for Atlantic inflow to the abyssal Caribbean Sea. Journal of Marine Research 55:847860.
Graven, HD, Gruber, N, Key, R, Khatiwala, S, Giraud, X. 2012. Changing controls on oceanic radiocarbon:New insights on shallow-to-deep ocean exchange and anthopogenic CO2 uptake. Journal of Geophysical Research 117:C10005. DOI: 10.1029/2012JC008074.
Hamilton, P. 1990. Deep currents in the Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Physical Oceanography 20:10871104.
Hamilton, P, Singer, JJ, Waddell, E, Donohue, K. 2003. Deepwater observations in the northern Gulf of Mexico from in-situ current meters and PIES. OCS Study MMS 2003-049, Final Report to U.S. Minerals Management Service, Vol. 2, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region. 95 p.
Hamilton, P, Bower, A, Furey, H, Leben, R, Perez-Brunius, P. 2016. Deep Circulation in the Gulf of Mexico: A Lagrangian Study. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, New Orleans, LA. OCS Study BOEM 2016-081. 289 p.
Hua, Q, Barbetti, M, Rakowski, AZ. 2013. Atmospheric radiocarbon for the period 1950–2010. Radiocarbon 55(4):20592072.
Jochens, AE, DiMarco, SF. 2008. Physical oceanographic conditions in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico in summer 2000–2002. Deep-Sea Research II 55:25412554.
Jochens, AE, Bender, LC, DiMarco, SF, Morse, JW, Kennicutt, MC II, Howard, MK, Nowlin, WD Jr. 2005. Understanding the Processes that Maintain the Oxygen Levels in the Deep Gulf of Mexico: Synthesis Report. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, New Orleans, LA. OCS Study MMS 2005-032. 142 p.
Johns, WE, Townsend, TL, Fratantoni, DM, Wilson, WD. 2002. On the Atlantic inflow to the Caribbean Sea. Deep-Sea Research I 49:211243.
Johnson, K, Key, R, Millero, F, Sabine, C, Wallace, D, Winn, C, Arlen, L, Erickson, K, Friis, K, Galanter, M, Goen, J, Rotter, R, Thomas, C, Wilke, R, Takahashi, T, Sutherland, S. 2003. Carbon Dioxide, Hydrographic, and Chemical Data Obtained During the R/V Knorr Cruises in the North Atlantic Ocean on WOCE Sections AR24 (November 2–December 5, 1996) and A24, A20, and A22 (May 30–September 3, 1997). In: Kozyr A, editor. ORNL/CDIAC-143, NDP-082. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, Tennessee. DOI: 10.3334/CDIAC/otg.ndp082.
Key, RM, Kozyr, A, Sabine, CL, Lee, K, Wanninkhof, R, Bullister, JL, Feely, RA, Millero, FJ, Mordy, C, Peng, T-H. 2004. A global ocean carbon climatology:Results from Global Data Analysis Project (GLODAP). Global Biogeochemical Cycles 18:GB4031. DOI: 10.1029/2004GB002247.
Koltermann, KP, Gouretski, VV, Jancke, K. 2011. Hydrographic Atlas of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE). Volume 3: Atlantic Ocean. Sparrow M, Chapman P, Gould J, editors). International WOCE Project Office, Southampton, UK. ISBN 090417557X.
Ledwell, JR, He, R, Xue, Z, DiMarco, SF, Spencer, L, Chapman, P. 2016. Dispersion of a tracer in the deep northern Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Geophysical Research 121:11101132. DOI: 10.1002/2015JC011405.
MacDonald, IR, Guinasso, NL Jr, Ackleson, G, Amos, JF, Duckworth, R, Sassen, R, Brooks, JM. 1993. Natural oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico visible from space. Journal of Geophysical Research 98:1635116364.
MacDonald, I, Reilly, JF Jr, Best, SR, Venkataramaiah, R, Sassen, R, Amos, J, Guinasso, NL Jr. 1996. A remote-sensing inventory of active oil seeps and chemosynthetic communities in the northern Gulf of Mexico. In: Schumacher D, Abrams MA, editors. Hydrocarbon Migration and its Near-Surface Expression. AAPG Memoir 66:2737. Tulsa, OK: American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
MacDonald, IR, Leifer, I, Sassen, R, Stine, P, Mitchell, R, Guinasso, N. 2002. Transfer of hydrocarbons from natural seeps to the water column and atmosphere. Geofluids 2:95107.
Matsumoto, K. 2007. Radiocarbon-based circulation age of the world oceans. Journal of Geophysical Research 112:C09004. DOI: 10.1029/2007JC004095.
Matsumoto, K, Key, RM. 2004. Natural radiocarbon distribution in the deep ocean. In: Shiyomi M, et al., editors. Global Environmental Change in the Ocean and on Land. p 4558.
Matthews, TD, Fredericks, AD, Sackett, WM. 1973. The geochemistry of radiocarbon in the Gulf of Mexico. Report IAEA-SM-158148. Vienna: International Atomic Energy Agency. p 725–34.
Maul, GA, Mayer, DA, Baig, SR. 1985. Comparisons between a continuous 3-year current-meter observation at the sill of the Yucatan Strait, measurements of Gulf Loop Current area, and regional sea level. Journal of Geophysical Research 90:90899096.
Molinari, RL, Mayer, D. 1980. Physical oceanographic conditions at a potential OTEC site in the Gulf of Mexico; 27.5°N, 85.5°W. NOAA Tech. Memo ERL-AOML-42. 100 p.
Morrison, JM, Nowlin, WD Jr. 1977. Repeated nutrient, oxygen and density sections through the Loop Current. Journal of Marine Research 35:105128.
Morrison, JM, Merrill, WJ, Key, RM, Key, TC. 1983. Property distributions and deep chemical measurements within the western Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Geophysical Research 88:26012608.
Nowlin, WD Jr, McClellan, H. 1967. A characterization of the Gulf of Mexico waters in winter. Journal of Marine Research 25:2959.
Nowlin, WD Jr, Jochens, AE, DiMarco, SF, Reid, RO, Howard, MK. 2001. Deepwater physical oceanography reanalysis and synthesis of historical data:Synthesis report. OCS Study MMS 2001-064, U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, New Orleans, LA. 528 p.
Ochoa, J, Sheinbaum, J, Badan, A, Candela, J, Wilson, D. 2001. Geostrophy via potential vorticity inversion in the Yucatan Channel. Journal of Marine Research 59:725747.
Östlund, HG, Rooth, CGH. 1990. The North Atlantic tritium and radiocarbon transients 1972–1983. Journal of Geophysical Research 95:2014720165.
Östlund, HG, Dorsey, HG, Rooth, CGH. 1974. GEOSECS North Atlantic radiocarbon and tritium results. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 23:6986.
Ribbat, B, Roether, W, Münnich, KO. 1976. Turnover of eastern Caribbean deep water from 14C measurements. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 32:331341.
Rivas, D, Badan, A, Ochoa, J. 2005. The ventilation of the deep Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Physical Oceanography 35:17631781.
Roemmich, D. 1981. Circulation of the Caribbean Sea: a well-resolved inverse problem. Journal of Geophysical Research 86:79938005.
Romanou, A, Chassignet, EP, Sturges, W. 2004. Gulf of Mexico circulation within a high-resolution numerical simulation of the North Atlantic Ocean. Journal of Geophysical Research 109:C01003. DOI: 10.1029/2003JC001770.
Rousset, C, Beal, LK. 2010. Observations of the Florida and Yucatan currents from a Caribbean cruise ship. Journal of Physical Oceanography 40:15751581. DOI: 10.1175/2010JPO4447.1.
Rubin, SI, Key, RM. 2002. Separating natural and bomb-produced radiocarbon in the ocean: the potential alkalinity method. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 16:1105. DOI: 1029/2001GB001432.
Schmitz, WJ. 2005. Cyclones and westward propagation in the shedding of anticyclonic rings from the Loop Current. In: Sturges W, Lugo-Fernandez A, editors. Circulation in the Gulf of Mexico: Observations and Models. Geophysical Monographs 161:241261. Washington DC: American Geophysical Union.
Schroeder, WW, Berner, L Jr, Nowlin, WD Jr. 1974. The oceanic waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Yucatan Strait during July 1969. Bulletin of Marine Science 24:119.
Sheinbaum, J, Candela, J, Badan, A, Ochoa, J. 2002. Flow structure and transport in the Yucatan Channel. Geophysical Research Letters 29:1040. DOI: 10.1029/2001GL013990.
Stuiver, M. 1980. Workshop on 14C data reporting. Radiocarbon 22(3):964966.
Stuiver, M, Polach, HA. 1977. Discussion: reporting of 14C data. Radiocarbon 19(3):355363.
Stuiver, M, Quay, PD, Ostlund, HG. 1983. Abyssal water carbon-14 distribution and the age of the world oceans. Science 219:849851.
Sweeney, C, Gloor, E, Jacobson, AJ, Key, RM, McKinley, G, Sarmiento, JL, Wanninkhof, R. 2007. Constraining global air-sea gas exchange for CO2 with recent bomb 14C measurements. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 21:GB2015. DOI: 10.1029/2006GB002784.
Toggweiler, JR, Key, RM. 2002. Ocean circulation: thermohaline circulation. In: Steel J, Thorpe S, Turekian K, editors. Encyclopedia of Ocean Sciences. London: Academic Press, Ltd. p 29412947. 2001; also published in Holton JR, Pyle J, Curry JA, editors. Encyclopedia of Atmospheric Sciences. London: Academic Press. p 15491555.
Wade, TL, Sericano, JL, Sweet, ST, Knap, AH, Guinasso, NL. 2016. Spatial and temporal distribution of water column total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH) from the Deepwater Horizon (Macondo) incident. Marine Pollution Bulletin 103:286293.
Weatherly, GL, Wienders, N, Romanou, A. 2005. Intermediate-depth circulation in the Gulf of Mexico estimated from direct measurements. In: Sturges W, Lugo-Fernandez A, editors. Circulation in the Gulf of Mexico: Observations and Models. Geophysical Monographs 161:315324. Washington DC: American Geophysical Union.
WHPO. 1994. WHP Operations and Methods. WOCE Hydrographic Office Report 91/1, as revised, WOCE Hydrographic Program Office, Woods Hole, MA.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Age Constraints on Gulf of Mexico Deep Water Ventilation as Determined by 14C Measurements

  • Piers Chapman (a1), Steven F DiMarco (a1), Robert M Key (a2), Connie Previti (a1) and Shari Yvon-Lewis (a1)...


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.