Geochemical Proxy Distribution at the Atomic-Scale: Atom Probe Tomography of Foraminiferal Calcite
Abstract:Biomineral composition reflects a complex interplay between minute-scale biological control, mineral growth processes, and the influence of environmental conditions. For this reason, the mechanisms responsible for the formation of these minerals, as well as the incorporation of trace elements during biomineral growth, are poorly understood. Potential mechanisms governing the production and composition of biominerals can be organized into two distinct groups: a) biological mechanisms controlling the calcifying environment and b) mineral growth processes from this controlled environment. Despite significant advances in both these areas, critical gaps remain in our understanding of biomineral production and geochemical tracer incorporation. We are adapting Atom Probe Tomography (APT), a technique that maps the arrangement and identity of individual atoms within a bulk material, to analyze foraminiferal calcite for the first time. These data-rich atom-scale chemical maps provide a unique opportunity to deconvolve the effects of biological and crystal growth processes in the incorporation of geochemical tracers.
Our first experiments have examined the influence of the biological-mineral interface on geochemical proxy element incorporation. Preliminary measurements show that (1) we can successfully map impurities in calcite biominerals, while also distinguishing between mineral and organic zones, overcoming a major technical hurdle; and (2) that elements like sodium appear to be recruited to the organic-mineral interface. The high-resolution chemical data from the APT will further allow us to investigate the fundamental basis for geochemical proxy behavior. For example, we can determine for a certain set of conditions whether the substitution of trace elements into the calcite follows ideal solid-solution behavior, as tacitly assumed in many geochemical proxy systems, or is modulated by intra-shell organics, or coupled-substitution interactions. Collectively, the application of APT to biominerals will lead to a mechanistic understanding of the processes controlling proxy behavior, with applications in climate science, geochemistry, and the design of complex biomimetic materials.