Measuring Carbon and Oxygen Isotope Uptake into Inorganic Calcite using Crystal Growth Experiments

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Evan Bruce Baker and James M Watkins, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, United States
Carbon and oxygen isotopes measured on natural calcite crystals provide a record of paleo-environment conditions. Despite the importance of measuring stable isotopes in calcite for paleo-environment reconstructions, there is neither a general theory nor an experimental data set that fully separates the effects of pH, temperature, and precipitation rate on isotope discrimination during calcite growthMany stable isotope studies of calcite have focused on either carbon or oxygen isotope compositions individually, but few have measured both carbon and oxygen isotope uptake in the same set of crystals. We are precipitating inorganic calcite across a range in temperature, pH, and precipitation rate to guide the development of a general theory for combined carbon and oxygen isotope uptake into calcite crystals grown on laboratory timescales.

In our experiments, dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) is added to an aqueous solution (15 mM CaCl2 + 5 mM NH4Cl) by CO2 bubbling. Once a critical supersaturation is reached, calcite crystals nucleate spontaneously and grow on the beaker walls. A key aspect of this experimental approach is that the δ13C of DIC is relatively constant throughout the crystal growth period, because there is a continuous supply of DIC from the CO2-bearing bubbles. Carbonic anhydrase, an enzyme promoting rapid equilibration of isotopes between DIC and water, was added to ensure that the solution remained isotopically equilibrated during calcite growth.

We have conducted experiments at T = 25°C and pH = 8.3 - 9.0. We observe that the fractionation of oxygen isotopes between calcite and water decreases with increasing pH, consistent with available data from experiments in which the enzyme carbonic anhydrase was used. Our results for carbon isotopes extend the available data set, which previously ranged from pH 6.62 to 7.75, to higher pH. At pH 8.3, we observe that calcite is isotopically heavier than DIC with respect to carbon isotopes by about 0.25‰. At pH 9.0, calcite is isotopically indistinguishable from, or perhaps slightly lighter than, DIC. We will present data from additional high-pH experiments and discuss the results in the context of recently developed ion-by-ion growth models for calcite.