Isotopic Tracers of Past Ocean Circulation: Turning Lead to Gold

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Science  15 Aug 1997:
Vol. 277, Issue 5328, pp. 908-909
DOI: 10.1126/science.277.5328.908

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The ocean is like a giant conveyor belt: Warm water from the Gulf Stream cools in the Atlantic Ocean and sinks to join deep water flowing along Antarctica and into the Pacific, where it warms and returns to the Atlantic as surface water. In his Perspective, Albarède discusses results in the same issue by Christensen et al. in which laser mass spectrometry was used to study ancient ocean circulation. The authors measured the concentrations of lead isotopes in material from the ocean floor and were able to view the isotope record over 50 million years.