Refining trace metal temperature proxies in cold-water scleractinian and stylasterid corals

Joseph A Stewart*, Laura F Robinson, Ivo Strawson, Peter T Spooner, Ana Samperiz, Rachael Bratt, Helena Pryer, et al.

*Corresponding author for this work

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

18 Citations (Scopus)
37 Downloads (Pure)


The Li/Mg, Sr/Ca and oxygen isotopic (δ18O) compositions of many marine biogenic carbonates are sensitive to seawater temperature. Corals, as cosmopolitan marine taxa with carbonate skeletons that can be precisely dated, represent ideal hosts for these geochemical proxies. However, efforts to calibrate and refine temperature proxies in cold-water corals (<20◦C) remain limited. Here we present skeletal Li/Mg, Sr/Ca, δ18O and carbon isotope (δ13C) data from live-collected specimens of aragonitic scleractinian corals (Balanophyllia, Caryophyllia, Desmophyllum, Enallopsammia, Flabellum, Lophelia, and Vaughanella), both aragonitic and high-Mg calcitic stylasterid genera (Stylasterand Errina), and shallow-water high-Mg calcite crustose coralline algae (Lithophyllum, Hydrolithon, and Neogoniolithon). We interpret these data in conjunction with results from previously explored taxa including aragonitic zooxanthellate scleractinia and foraminifera, and high-Mg calcite octocorals. We show that Li/Mg ratios covary most strongly with seawater temperature, both for aragonitic and high-Mg calcitic taxa, making for reliable and universal seawater temperature proxies. Combining all of our biogenic aragonitic Li/Mg data with previous calibration efforts we report a refined relationship to temperature: Li/MgAllAragonite=5.42 exp(−0.050 ×T(◦C))(R2=0.97). This calibration now permits paleo-temperature reconstruction to better than ±3.4◦C (95% prediction intervals) across biogenic aragonites, regardless of taxon, from 0 to 30◦C. For taxa in this study, aragonitic stylasterid Li/Mg offers the most robust temperature proxy (Li/MgStylasterid(Arag)=5.64 exp(−0.046 ×T(◦C))(R2=0.95)) with a reproducibility of ±2.3◦C. For the first time, we show that high-Mg calcites have a similar exponential relationship with temperature, but with a lower intercept value (Li/Mg =0.63 exp(−0.050 ×T(◦C)(R2=0.92)). This calibration opens the possibility of temperature reconstruction using high-Mg calcite corals and coralline algae. The commonality in the relationship between Li/Mg and temperature transcends phylogeny and suggests a similar abiogenic trace metal incorporation mechanism.
Original languageEnglish
Article number116412
Number of pages13
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Early online date22 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020


  • Scleractinia
  • Stylasteridae
  • seawater temperature
  • Li/Mg
  • mineralogy


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