Experimental determination of factors controlling U/Ca of aragonite precipitated from seawater: Implications for interpreting coral skeleton Academic Article uri icon


  • The U/Ca ratio of aragonite coral skeleton exhibits coherent patterns of seasonal and interannual variability. In field-sampled corals and those grown in controlled culture experiments, strong correlations have been found between coral skeleton U/Ca and water temperature, pH, carbonate ion concentration, and salinity. However, the mechanism(s) underlying these different correlations remain unclear. We performed abiogenic precipitation experiments designed to evaluate the sensitivity of U partitioning between aragonite and seawater to temperature, pH, and the concentration of carbonate ion in seawater. Aragonite was precipitated from seawater by addition of carbonate alkalinity at rates set to maintain stable carbonate chemistry during precipitation. Experiments were conducted at 20-40 degrees C, with pH 7.8-9.0 and carbonate ion concentrations of 600-2600 mu mol kg(-1). U/Ca ratios of the bulk precipitate and fluid were determined by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Our results show that the U/Ca ratio of aragonite precipitated from seawater decreases with increasing carbonate ion concentration, and is independent of pH and temperature. We use these results as a framework to interpret the skeletal composition of coral aragonite precipitated from a calcifying fluid that is semi-isolated from the external seawater environment. Accordingly, coral U/Ca ratios are consistent with calcifying fluid carbonate ion concentrations that are several times greater than those of ambient seawater. Correlations between coral U/Ca ratios and seawater temperature, carbonate chemistry, and other environmental variables arise indirectly, via the impacts of these variables on the carbonate ion concentration of the coral calcifying fluid. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • August 2015