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Keywords:

  • North Pacific;
  • decadal variability;
  • benthic foraminifera;
  • Santa Barbara Basin;
  • radiocarbon

[1] The decadal dynamics of the subsurface North Pacific Ocean are largely inaccessible beyond sparse instrumental observations spanning the last 20 years. Here we present a ∼200 year long record of benthic foraminiferal radiocarbon (Δ14C), extracted at biennial resolution from the annually laminated sediments at the Santa Barbara Basin (SBB) depocenter (∼600 m). The close match between core top benthic foraminiferal Δ14C values and the Δ14C of seawater dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) suggests that benthic foraminifera faithfully capture the bottom water radiocarbon concentrations, as opposed to that of the deeper (>0.5 cm) sediment porewater zone. The full time series of benthic foraminiferal Δ14C displays significant variability on decadal timescales, with excursions on the order of 40‰. These excursions are overprinted by a unidirectional trend over the late 20th century that likely reflects the sedimentary incorporation of bomb radiocarbon (via remineralized particulate organic carbon). We isolate this trend by means of a one-dimensional oxidation model, which considers the possible contribution of remineralized particles to the total ambient carbon pool. This oxidation model also considers the possible influence of carbon with a variety of sources (ages). Though variable oxidation of preaged carbon could exert a strong influence on benthic foraminiferal radiocarbon variability, the totality of evidence points to the vertical density structure along the Southern California Margin (SCM) as the primary driver of the SBB benthic foraminiferal Δ14C record. For example, intervals characterized by significantly lower Δ14C values correspond to periods of enhanced upwelling and subsurface equatorward flow along the SCM.