EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Treasure from trash: Using nuclear waste to trace ocean circulation around Iceland

Duncan Dale1, Marcus Christl2, Andreas Macrander3, Sólveig Ólafsdóttir3, Rob Middag4, and Núria Casacuberta1,2
Duncan Dale et al.
  • 1ETH Zurich, Institute of Biogeochemistry & Pollutant Dynamics, Environmental Systems Science, Switzerland (
  • 2Laboratory of Ion Beam Physics, ETH Zürich, Switzerland
  • 3Marine and Freshwater Research Institute, Hafnarfjörður, Iceland
  • 4Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Department of Ocean Systems, Texel, Netherlands

Iceland stands at an important gateway where Arctic and Atlantic waters interact. Atlantic waters pass northward and circulate in the Arctic before returning southward in the East Greenland Current (EGC). Zones of deep water formation in the Nordic Seas contribute to overflows of the Iceland-Scotland Ridge such as Denmark Strait Overflow Water (DSOW). These are key processes in Arctic warming and deep ocean ventilation.

This system has been tagged with anthropogenic radionuclides 129I and 236U by bomb tests in the 1950-60s and point-source nuclear reprocessing plants (NRPs) at Sellafield (UK) and La Hague (FR) since the 1960s providing an opportunity to trace the origins of water masses in the region and their transit timescales. Here we present the results of measurements on samples taken during two cruises around Iceland in 2021 by the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) of Iceland (winter) and the NIOZ MetalGate Cruise of the GEOTRACES program (summer). Models for the origin of waters transiting Denmark Strait and of the evolution of Iceland Scotland Overflow Water (ISOW) are presented that provide a tracer-based perspective for comparison with models based on physical oceanographic tools. This forms a baseline for tracking changes to circulation in the Subpolar North Atlantic using the transient nature of the tracer signals.

How to cite: Dale, D., Christl, M., Macrander, A., Ólafsdóttir, S., Middag, R., and Casacuberta, N.: Treasure from trash: Using nuclear waste to trace ocean circulation around Iceland, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-12097,, 2023.

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