Uranium Isotopes in Calcium Carbonate: A Possible Proxy for Paleo-pH and Carbonate Ion Concentration?
Abstract:Natural variations of 238U/235U in marine carbonates are being explored as a paleoredox proxy. However, in order for this proxy to be robust, it is important to understand how pH and alkalinity affect the fractionation of 238U/235U during coprecipitation with calcite and aragonite. Recent work suggests that the U/Ca ratio of foraminiferal calcite may vary with seawater [CO32-] concentration due to changes in U speciation. Here we explore analogous isotopic consequences in inorganic laboratory co-precipitation experiments.
Uranium coprecipitation experiments with calcite and aragonite were performed at pH 8.5 ± 0.1 and 7.5 ± 0.1 using a constant addition method . Dissolved U in the remaining solution was periodically collected throughout the experiments. Samples were purified with UTEVA resin and 238U/235U was determined using a 233U-236U double-spike and MC-ICP-MS, attaining a precision of ± 0.10 ‰ . Small but resolvable U isotope fractionation was observed in aragonite experiments at pH ~8.5, preferentially enriching heavier U isotopes in the solid phase. 238U/235U of the dissolved U in these experiments can be fit by Rayleigh fractionation curves with fractionation factors of 1.00002 - 1.00009. In contrast, no resolvable U isotope fractionation was detected in an aragonite experiment at pH ~7.5 or in calcite experiments at either pH.
Equilibrium isotope fractionation among dissolved U species is the most likely mechanism driving these isotope effects. Our quantitative model of this process assumes that charged U species are preferentially incorporated into CaCO3 relative to the neutral U species Ca2UO2(CO3)3(aq), which we hypothesize to have a lighter equilibrium U isotope composition than the charged U species. According to this model, the magnitude of U isotope fractionation should scale with the fraction of the neutral U species in the solution, in agreement with our experimental results. These findings suggest that U isotope variations in abiotic CaCO3 reflect changes in aqueous U(VI) speciation, which are in turn a function of carbonate ion chemistry and pH. Hence, the door is opened to the development of a possible 238U/235U proxy for the carbonate ion system.
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