Environmental Fluid Mechanics

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 213–233

Simulating transport of 129I and idealized tracers in the northern North Atlantic Ocean


    • Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center & Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research
    • Badger Explorer ASA
  • John N. Smith
    • Marine Environmental Sciences DivisionBedford Institute of Oceanography
  • Vasily Alfimov
    • ETH/PSI Ion Beam Physics GroupInstitute of Particle Physics
  • Mats Bentsen
    • Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center & Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10652-009-9138-3

Cite this article as:
Orre, S., Smith, J.N., Alfimov, V. et al. Environ Fluid Mech (2010) 10: 213. doi:10.1007/s10652-009-9138-3


Transport of the radioactive tracer Iodine-129 (129I, T1/2 = 15.7 Myr) in the northern North Atlantic Ocean has been investigated using a global isopycnic Ocean General Circulation Model (OGCM) and observed data. 129I originates mainly from the nuclear fuel reprocessing plants in Sellafield (UK) and La Hague (France), and is transported northwards along the Norwegian coast, and then into surface and intermediate layers in the Arctic Ocean through the Barents Sea and the Fram Strait, but also partly recirculating south along the eastern coast of Greenland. In the North Atlantic Subpolar Seas, 129I is mainly found in dense overflow waters from the Nordic Seas being exported southwards in the Deep Western Boundary Current, and to a lesser extent in surface and intermediate layers circulating cyclonically within the Subpolar Gyre. Observed concentration of 129I along a surface transect in the eastern Nordic Seas in 2001 is captured by the OGCM, while in the Nansen Basin of the Arctic Ocean the OGCM overestimates the observed values by a factor of two. The vertical profile of 129I in the Labrador Sea, repeatedly observed since 1997 to present, is fairly realistically reproduced by the OGCM. This indicates that the applied model system has potential for predicting the magnitude and depth of overflow waters from the Nordic Seas into the North Atlantic Subpolar Seas. To supplement the information obtained from the 129I distribution, we have conducted a number of idealized tracer experiments with the OGCM, including tracers mimicking pure water masses, and instantaneous pulse releases. New insight into time-scales of tracer transport in this region is obtained by utilizing a few recently developed methods based on the theory of Transit Time Distribution (TTD) and age of tracers. Implications for other types of “anomalies” in the northern North Atlantic Ocean, being anomalous hydrography or chemical tracers, and how they are interpreted, are discussed.


Iodine-129Nordic SeasArctic OceanNorth Atlantic Subpolar SeasTransit Time DistributionAge
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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009