Accurate climate reconstruction from coral aragonite: The impact of seawater pH on skeletal Sr/Ca
Thursday, 18 December 2014
The geochemistry of skeletal aragonite deposited by massive tropical corals preserves a valuable record of past climate. In particular, coral skeletal Sr/Ca records sea surface temperature (SST) at the time of deposition and is a widely used palaeothermometer. However, SSTs estimated from many fossil corals are significantly cooler than those predicted from other proxies and climate models. Accurately interpreting the SST records encoded in coral aragonite requires a greater understanding of the controls on skeletal Sr/Ca, including the effect of variations in seawater pH. We have developed an aquarium system to culture corals over a range of pCO2 scenarios that range from the last glacial maximum (180 ppm) to levels projected by the end of this century (750 ppm). We acclimated heads of massive Porites corals, the coral genus most commonly used in palaeoenvironmental studies, to four pCO2 scenarios over a period of > 6 months. Using SIMS we are measuring the Sr/Ca of the aragonite deposited over a five-week experimental period, following this long acclimation, at a 1-2 day resolution. We explore the relationship between seawater pH and skeletal Sr/Ca, and we investigate how skeletal Sr/Ca varies between fast- and slow-growing axes within the same coral, and between different genotypes within the same treatment. We have quantified net photosynthesis, respiration and calcification rates in each coral head throughout the experimental period, and we observe that calcification in the light is significantly reduced at a pCO2 of 750 ppm compared to 180 ppm (0.94 ± 0.17 and 0.45 ± 0.23 µmol CaCO3 cm-2 hr-1, respectively; p < 0.01). We investigate whether these differences influence skeletal geochemistry within our controlled culture conditions. Understanding the effect of changes in seawater pH, metabolic and calcification rates on the Sr/Ca of coral skeletons will significantly advance the application of this proxy in past climate reconstruction.