This study centers on the question: How sensitive are Pa-231/Th-230 and Be-10/Th-230 to sediment composition and redistribution? The natural radionuclides Pa-231, Th-230 and Be-10 recorded in deep sea sediments are tracers for water mass advection and particle fluxes. We investigate the influence of oceanic particle composition on the element adsorption in order to improve our understanding of sedimentary isotope records. We present new data on particle size specific Pa-231 and Be-10 concentrations. An additional separation step, based on settling velocities, led to the isolation of a very opal-rich phase. We find that opal-rich particles contain the highest Pa-231 and Be-10 concentrations, and higher Pa-231/Th-230 and Be-10/Th-230 isotope ratios than opalpoor particles. The fractionation relative to Th-230 induced by the adsorption to opal-rich particles is more pronounced for Pa-231 than for Be-10. We conclude that bulk Pa-231/Th-230 in Southern Ocean sediments is most suitable as a proxy for past opal fluxes. The comparison between two neighboring cores with rapid and slow accumulation rates reveals that these isotope ratios are not influenced significantly by the intensity of sediment focusing at these two study sites. However, a simulation shows that particle sorting by selective removal of sediment (winnowing) could change the isotope ratios. Consequently, Pa-231/Th-230 should not be used as paleocirculation proxy in cases where a strong loss of opal-rich material due to bottom currents occurred. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.