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Radiocarbon in the maritime air and sea surface water of the South China Sea

  • Pan Gao (a1), Liping Zhou (a1) (a2) (a3), Kexin Liu (a4) and Xiaomei Xu (a5)

Radiocarbon (14C) generated by the thermonuclear tests in the late 1950s to early 1960s has been used as a tracer to study atmospheric and oceanic circulations, carbon exchange between different reservoirs, and fossil fuel emissions. Here we report the first measurements of 14C in atmospheric CO2 of maritime air collected over the South China Sea (SCS) during July 2014. We also present 14C of the dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) in the sea surface water in the same region. Most of the Δ14C values of the atmospheric CO2 vary in the range of 15.6±1.6‰– 22.0±1.6‰, indicating that the central SCS maritime air is well-mixed and consistent with the clean background air in the Northern Hemisphere. The 14C values of the DIC (DI14C) in the surface seawater vary between 28.3±2.5‰ and 40.6±2.7‰, mainly due to the lateral mixing between the SCS and western Pacific. The average surface seawater DI14C is 15.4 ± 5.1‰ higher than that of the maritime air 14CO2. The reversal of the sea–air Δ14C gradient occurred at ∼2000, marking the start of the upper ocean transferring bomb 14C back to the atmosphere in the SCS.

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