Foram Farming in the Mid-Continent: Culturing Low-Mg Benthic Foraminifera to Calibrate the Mg/Ca Paleothermometer
Thursday, 18 December 2014
The initiation of Cenozoic continental ice sheets and the history of their growth/decay is difficult to reconstruct because of the mixed effects of polar ice volume and temperature on benthic foraminiferal oxygen isotope values. Coupled measurements of foraminiferal δ18O and Mg/Ca are a promising tool to unlock the history of past continental glaciation by calculating the oxygen isotopic composition of paleo-seawater. This method has been applied on Quaternary timescales with success, but uncertainty about secular changes in seawater Mg/Ca and potential changes in carbonate saturation have produced varying results with deeper time data. Currently, no experimentally-calibrated model explains how the Mg/Ca of low-Mg calcite, such as secreted by benthic foraminifera, responds to variations in seawater temperature and Mg/Ca. Our “Foram Farm” is a culture system for low-Mg calcite benthic foraminifera, composed of a colony and an experimental line. Currently, the colony hosts several species of rotaliids, miliolids, and buliminids obtained from Qatar, the Dominican Republic, Scotland, and Long Island Sound, USA. In addition, two tanks contain “live sand,” a mixture of sandy material and seawater obtained from tropical reefs, and commonly used to condition hobbyist saltwater aquaria. This sand contains foraminifera and numerous other microorganisms. “Live sand” could be a source for cheap and easy to obtain test subjects. The foram farm gives access to a constant supply and variety of test subjects for the experimental line, which consists of several analytical refrigerators with varying temperatures. Each refrigerator houses petri dishes where forams are grown in water with varying Mg/Ca compositions. Elphidium excavatum, a well-researched, eurytopic taxon, will be the first to be cultured in the experimental line. After growing under experimental conditions, specimens will be analyzed using LA-ICP-MS, in order to model effects of seawater T and Mg/Ca on foram Mg/Ca. These calibration data may reduce uncertainties surrounding deep-time estimates of continental ice volume as well as seawater temperature and chemistry.