The Use of Tracers and Water Masses to Estimate Rates of Respiration

  • William J. Jenkins
Part of the NATO Conference Series book series (NATOCS, volume 15)


One method of estimating oxygen utilization rates in the sea is to infer them from the spatial distributions of dissolved oxygen and other properties. That is, one obtains some measure of the “age” or velocity of a given parcel of water, and combining this with an observed deficit or gradient in dissolved oxygen concentration, one obtains an apparent oxygen utilization rate. The advantage of such an approach is that it represents a true in situ measurement; there is no experimental perturbation of the system. The disadvantage of such an approach is that it is often a rather model-dependent calculation and is therefore subject to potential ambiguities, inaccuracies and even fallacies due to the model used. However, in all fairness it should be noted that even quite unrealistic models may in fact give rather good estimates of oxygen utilization, largely due to the degree of similarity between the boundary conditions of oxygen and the tracer used to calibrate the model. Such “metaphoric” models have proven very powerful in this regard, and in large part form the basis of our quantitative understanding of the rates of chemical and biological processes in the oceans. After all, a model is really an abstraction of the essence of a system, and as such cannot contain all elements of reality. Philosophically, it may be argued that the more abstract the model, the more that is learned, whereas a too articulated model, although perhaps more successful in mimicing observations, may not have much predictive power.


Subtropical Gyre Geostrophic Balance Nuclear Fuel Reprocess Advection Diffusion Barotropic Component 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • William J. Jenkins
    • 1
  1. 1.Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA

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