Calibration of Sr/Ca, Li/Mg and Sr-U Paleothermometry in Branching and Foliose Corals

Claire L. Ross, Thomas Mario De Carlo, Malcolm T. McCulloch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Coral skeletons are the most commonly used high-resolution temperature proxy in the tropical oceans, providing paleoclimate reconstructions dating back centuries to millennia. However, physiological differences in skeletal formation modes together with artifacts arising from coral biomineralization (vital effects) can confound the temperature dependence of single element-to-calcium ratios. In efforts to reduce vital effects and isolate temperature, new approaches have been developed based on Sr-U and Li/Mg, which combine Sr/Ca and U/Ca and Li/Ca and Mg/Ca, respectively. Here we examine the systematics of Sr/Ca, Sr-U, and Li/Mg paleothermometry in 33 colonies of branching (Acropora, Pocillopora, and Stylophora) and foliose (Turbinaria) genera. To address the calibration of these morphologically complex calcifiers, we conducted repeat field trips every 1 to 3 months and collected the most recent (~1 month) uppermost growth of individual colonies over ~18- to 24-month periods. This enables seasonally resolved calibration of genera that exhibit rapid extension and slower secondary calcification. Based on this experimental design, we show that all three proxies capture seasonal to annual temperature variations for their respective growth intervals, providing calibrations across an 11 °C range. Species effects on the temperature dependence were largest for Sr/Ca (22.7%) yet minor for Li/Mg (7.2%) and Sr-U (6.3%). Residuals from proxy-temperature regressions were correlated between Sr/Ca and Li/Mg, indicating similar biological processes may influence Sr/Ca and Li/Mg thermometry. The implications of this study are that Sr-U and to a lesser extent Li/Mg are applicable to fossil branching coral skeletons identified to genus level without the need for modern-day calibration. We further show that all three paleothermometers provide complementary temperature constraints, with Li/Mg and the more species-dependent Sr/Ca showing greater effectiveness at resolving seasonal variability and Sr-U showing greater reliability at capturing mean annual temperature.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1271-1291
Number of pages21
JournalPaleoceanography and Paleoclimatology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 13 2019

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: Thanks to J. Trotter, K. Rankenburg, M. Holcomb, J. D'Olivo, A-M. Nisumaa-Comeau, and R. Berdin for their assistance in the isotope and mass spectrometry laboratories. Thanks to M. Van Keulan and the Murdoch University Coral Bay Research Station for access to accommodation and facilities. For assistance in the field we are very grateful to F. McGregor at the Coral Bay Research Station, C. Lebens at Bremer Bay Dive, J. Falter, V. Schoepf, research technicians (C. Bowyer and A. Kuret), and volunteers (M. Tropiano, E. Marchetti, S. Bell, G. Elwood, H. Clarke, M. Cuttler, T. Foster, S. Dandan, Y. Moulders, B. Vaughan, I. Lindgren, A. Jolly, M. Le Nohaic, E. Lester, C. Krausse, L. Dugal, S. Dawe, M. Jung, C. Spencer, and T. Mckiever). We are also grateful to M. Holcomb for making the abiogenic aragonite geochemistry data set publicly available, which enabled calculation of the Li/Mg partition coefficients that substantially improved our study. This research was supported by funding provided by an ARC Laureate Fellowship (LF120100049) awarded to M. McCulloch and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CE140100020), and an Australian Post Graduate Scholarship awarded to C. Ross.


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