Palaeoenvironmental records from fossil corals: the effects of submarine diagenesis on temperature and climate estimates

Nicola Allison, Adrian Anthony Finch, JM Webster, DW Clague

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88 Citations (Scopus)


The geochemistry of coral skeletons may reflect seawater conditions at the time of deposition and the analysis of fossil skeletons offers a method to reconstruct past climate. However the precipitation of cements in the primary coral skeleton during diagenesis may significantly affect bulk skeletal geochemistry. We used secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) to measure Sr, Mg, B, U and Ba concentrations in primary coral aragonite and aragonite and calcite cements in fossil Porites corals from submerged reefs around the Hawaiian Islands. Cement and primary coral geochemistry were significantly different in all corals. We estimate the effects of cement inclusion on climate estimates from drilled coral samples, which combine cements and primary coral aragonite. Secondary 1% calcite or similar to 2% aragonite cement contamination significantly affects Sr/Ca SST estimates by +1 degrees C and -0.4 to -0.9 degrees C, respectively. Cement inclusion also significantly affects Mg/Ca, B/Ca and U/Ca SST estimates in some corals. X-ray diffraction (XRD) will not detect secondary aragonite cements and significant calcite contamination may be below the limit of detection (similar to 1 %) of the technique. Thorough petrographic examination of fossils is therefore essential to confirm that they are pristine before bulk drilled samples are analysed. To confirm that the geochemistry of the original coral structures is not affected by the precipitation of cements in adjacent pore spaces we analysed the primary coral aragonite in cemented and uncemented areas of the skeleton. Sr/Ca, B/Ca and U/Ca of primary coral aragonite is not affected by the presence of cements in adjacent interskeletal pore spaces i.e. the coral structures maintain their original composition and selective SIMS analysis of these structures offers a route to the reconstruction of accurate SSTs from altered coral skeletons. However, Mg/Ca and Ba/Ca of primary coral aragonite are significantly higher in parts of skeletons infilled with high Mg calcite cement. We hypothesise this reflects cement infilling of intraskeletal pore spaces in the primary coral structure. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4693-4703
Number of pages11
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2007




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