The primary controls on U/Ca and minor element proxies in a cold-water coral cultured under decoupled carbonate chemistry conditions

Culture experiments are uniquely suited for uncovering the fundamental factors controlling skeletal geochemistry because it is possible to explore conditions beyond what is found in the modern ocean and to decouple parameters that co-vary in nature. We cultured juvenile individuals of a cold-water coral (Balanophyllia elegans) in a set of experiments that decoupled carbonate chemistry parameters over a wide range of pH, DIC, and [CO32-] values. Using a multi-element mixed spike isotope dilution method we then analyzed cultured skeletons for U/Ca, which has been proposed as a potential proxy for seawater pH and [CO32-], as well as Sr/Ca, and Mg/Ca.

We find that U/Ca and Sr/Ca ratios in cultured B. elegans are most strongly correlated with solution DIC and not pH or [CO32-]. We also confirm previous observations that Metal/Calcium (Me/Ca) ratios follow the same correlated relationships between and among individuals across different experimental conditions. Interpretation of these robust Me/Ca patterns within the framework of a geochemical model of biomineralization allows us to identify two “rules” of skeletal growth for B. elegans. First, changes in seawater exchange rates can explain variability in B. elegans Me/Ca ratios, correlations between these ratios, and sensitivity of Me/Ca to changes in seawater carbonate chemistry. Second, our model best fits our data if we assume that calcifying fluid pH for B. elegans remains constant across widely varying experimental seawater compositions. Our study has implications for the recently developed Sr-U paleothermometer because it refines our understanding of the environmental parameters affecting this proxy. Our model further demonstrates that while U/Ca is not a robust indicator of seawater pH or [CO32-]. Instead, U/Ca may record how calcifying fluid [CO32-] responds to changes in the environment or calcification dynamics, which may be useful in evaluating how corals respond to changes like ocean acidification. Measurements of U/Ca and additional Me/Ca ratios in other coral species, evaluated within a similar framework, may elucidate how those species respond to environmental change.

Gothmann A. M. & Gagnon A. C., in press. The primary controls on U/Ca and minor element proxies in a cold-water coral cultured under decoupled carbonate chemistry conditions. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. Article (subscription required).

  • Reset


OA-ICC Highlights

%d bloggers like this: