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Keywords:

  • transient tracer;
  • ocean circulation;
  • ventilation

[1] Tritium data, primarily from the GEOSECS and WOCE cruises of the 1970s and 1990s, are used to estimate the time-evolving 3H inventory of the North Pacific basin. In the years between the two surveys, there have been changes both laterally and vertically in the distribution of 3H in the North Pacific that reflect the mean circulation and exchanges of the basin. We develop a simple multibox model of the shallow circulation of the North Pacific to explore the long-term redistribution and changes in 3H inventories within the basin. To do this, we derived a new estimate of the delivery of bomb 3H to the North Pacific by precipitation for the period 1960–1997 and include other minor sources such as rivers. Vapor deposition dominates over direct precipitation of tritium to the basin, while inputs from continental runoff and the inflow from the south contribute over an order of magnitude less. The model predicted tritium budget of 25.1 ± 3.3 kg compares well with the estimated WOCE inventory of 23.4 ± 2.0 kg. We explore in detail the sensitivity of the budget calculations to model circulation and assumptions, as well as uncertainties in observations. We find that the ratio of tritium in vapor to that in precipitation is the most sensitive variable in the model budget, and the basin tritium inventory is consistent with a vapor-to-precipitation ratio of 0.67 (range 0.60–0.74), predictably somewhat less than the isotopic equilibrium value of 0.89. An inverse calculation shows that despite uncertainties in the tritium source function, the data also help constrain aspects of the basin circulation, including the Indonesian Throughflow.