Reconstructing ocean pH with boron isotopes in foraminifera

In order to better understand the effect of CO2 on the Earth system in the future, geologists may look to CO2-induced environmental change in Earth’s past. Here we describe how CO2 can be reconstructed using the boron isotopic composition (δ11B) of marine calcium carbonate. We review the chemical principles that underlie the proxy, summarize the available calibration data, and detail how boron isotopes can be used to estimate ocean pH and ultimately atmospheric CO2 in the past. δ11B in a variety of marine carbonates shows a coherent relationship with seawater pH, in broad agreement with simple models for this proxy. Offsets between measured and predicted δ11B may in part be explained by physiological influences, though the exact mechanisms of boron incorporation into carbonate remain unknown. Despite these uncertainties, we demonstrate that δ11B may provide crucial constraints on past ocean acidification and atmospheric CO2.

Foster G. L. & Rae J. W. B., 2016. Reconstructing ocean pH with boron isotopes in foraminifera. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 44:207-237. Article (subscription required).

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