An improved boron isotope pH proxy calibration for the deep-sea coral Desmophyllum dianthus through sub-sampling of fibrous aragonite

Joseph A. Stewart, Eleni Anagnostou, Gavin L. Foster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
348 Downloads (Pure)


The isotopic composition of boron (δ11B) in marine carbonates is well established as a proxy for past ocean pH, however, its robust application to palaeo-environments relies on the generation of species-specific calibrations. Existing calibrations utilising the deep-sea coral (DSC) Desmophyllum dianthus highlight the potential application of this pervasive species to pH reconstructions of intermediate depth waters. Nevertheless, considerable uncertainty remains regarding the estimation of seawater pH from these bulk skeletal δ11B measurements, likely resulting from microstructural heterogeneities in δ11B of D. dianthus. To circumvent this problem, thus improving the reliability of the D. dianthus δ11B-pH calibration, we present a new δ11B calibration of micro-sampled fibrous aragonite from this species.

Modern coral specimens recovered from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans, micro-sampled using microdrilling, micromilling, and laser cutting extraction, were analysed for trace element (B/Ca, Mg/Ca, Sr/Ca, and U/Ca) and boron isotopic composition. We find the best calibration against the δ11B of borate in local ambient seawater (a function of pH and taken from hydrographic data sets; pH range 7.57 to 8.05) utilises δ11B measurements of fibres with likely slow growth rates and minimal contamination from adjacent microstructures (identified by low Mg/Ca) for each coral specimen. This new calibration exhibits a stronger, and better-defined dependence on ambient seawater pH compared to bulk coral δ11B; δ11Bfibre = (0.93 ± 0.17) × δ11Bborate + (12.02 ± 2.63). We suggest that the majority of the variability in measured δ11B between replicate bands of fibrous aragonite from a D. dianthus specimen can be explained by small incorporation of non-fibrous aragonite and surface impurities during microsampling and growth rate effects. This study confirms the utility of D. dianthus as an archive of precise palaeo-pH (± 0.07 pH units), provided that suitable sampling strategies are applied.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-160
Number of pages13
JournalChemical Geology
Early online date28 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2016


  • Desmophyllum dianthus
  • Deep-sea coral
  • pH
  • Boron isotopes
  • Trace element
  • Fibrous aragonite


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