B/Ca in coccoliths and relationship to calcification vesicle pH and dissolved inorganic carbon concentrations

Coccolithophorid algae are microscopic but prolific calcifiers in modern and ancient oceans. When the pH of seawater is modified, as may occur in the future due to ocean acidification, different species and strains of coccolithophorids have exhibited diverse calcification responses in laboratory culture. Since their biomineralization is a completely intracellular process, it is unclear why their response should be affected by extracellular seawater pH. Variations in the B/Cain coccoliths are potential indicators of pH shifts in the intracellular coccolith vesicle where calcification occurs, because B/Ca in abiogenic calcites increases at higher pH due to the greater abundance of borate ions, the only B species incorporated into calcite. We used a SIMS ion probe to measure B/Ca of coccoliths from three different strains of Emiliania huxleyi and one strain of Coccolithus braarudiibraarudiicultured under different seawater pH conditions to ascertain if the B/Ca can be used to elucidate how coccolithophorids respond to changing ocean pH.These data are interpreted with the aid of a conceptual model of cellular boron acquisition by coccolithophorids. Based on uptake in other plants, we infer that boron uptake by coccolithophorid cells is dominated by passive uptake of boric acid across the lipid bilayer. Subsequently, in the alkaline coccolith vesicle (C.V.), boron speciates according to the C.V. pH, and borate is incorporated into the coccolith. At increasing seawater pH, the relative abundance of the neutral boric acid in seawater decreases, lowering the potential B flux into the cell. Homeostasis or constant pH of the coccolith vesicle results in a decrease of the B/Cain the coccolith with increasing seawater pH. In contrast, if coccolith vesicle pH increases with increasing seawater pH, then the B/Ca will increase as the fraction of borate in the coccolith vesicle increases. The coccolith B/Ca is also expected to depend inversely on the dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) concentration in the coccolith vesicle. The B/Ca in cultured coccoliths is much lower than that of foraminifera or corals and limits precision in the analysis. Modest variations in DIC or pH of the coccolith vesicle can account for the observed trends in B/Ca in cultured coccoliths. The model shows that paired measurements of B/Ca and B isotopic composition of the calcite could distinguish between regulation of pH or DIC in the coccolith vesicle.

Stoll H., Langer G., Shimizu N., & Kanamaru K., in press. B/Ca in coccoliths and relationship to calcification vesicle pH and dissolved inorganic carbon concentrations. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta doi:10.1016/j.gca.2011.12.003. Article (subscription required).

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