Apparent oxygen utilization rates based on tritium-helium dating in the South China Sea: Implications for export production

Tengxiang Xie, Robert Newton, Peter Schlosser, Liguo Guo, Lifang Wang, Tao Huang, Yan Li, Zhe Wang, Minhan Dai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


We present tritium (3H) and helium isotope (δ3He) data from the South China Sea (SCS), to estimate apparent oxygen utilization rates (AOURs). The observed δ3He values are close to the theoretical solubility equilibrium value of -1.7% in the upper mixed layer, followed by an increase with depth down to ~1500 m. Below 1500 m depth, δ3He is homogenously distributed with a value of 20.9% ± 1.0%. The distribution of δ3He reveals that a significant fraction of 3He throughout the water column over the entire SCS basin is allochthonous, derived from mantle sources originated from the Pacific Ocean. By using the salinity-normalized “potential” alkalinity (NPA) as a conservative mixing tracer, 3He produced by tritium decay (tritiogenic) was separated from mantle 3He, and the apparent 3H–3He ages of the SCS water masses were subsequently calculated to be 11 ± 5 years at 100 m depth and 50 ± 4 years at 1000 m. Together with the observed dissolved oxygen concentrations, we estimated the mean AOURs and obtained values of 4.15 ± 0.27 μmol kg−1·yr−1 for the depth range of 100–500 m, and 0.81 ± 0.23 μmol kg−1·yr−1 for that between 800 and 1000 m depth. The depth-integrated AOURs between 100 and 1000 m depth, yield a spatially and temporally averaged export flux of organic carbon of 1.96 ± 0.16 mol-C·m−2·yr−1, comparable with previous estimates based on either 238U/234Th disequilibrium or nutrient and oxygen mass balance calculations in the SCS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103620
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • AOUR
  • Export production
  • Mantle He
  • South China Sea
  • “Tritiogenic” He

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Apparent oxygen utilization rates based on tritium-helium dating in the South China Sea: Implications for export production'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this