The geochemistry of deep-sea coral skeletons: A review of vital effects and applications for palaeoceanography

TitleThe geochemistry of deep-sea coral skeletons: A review of vital effects and applications for palaeoceanography
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsRobinson, LF, Adkins, JF, Frank, N, Alexander, C, Prouty, N, E. Roark, B, van de Flierdt, T
JournalDeep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography

Deep-sea corals were discovered over a century ago, but it is only over recent years that focused efforts have been made to explore the history of the oceans using the geochemistry of their skeletal remains. They offer a promising archive of past oceanic environments given their global distribution, layered growth patterns, longevity and preservation as well as our ability to date them using radiometric techniques. This paper provides an overview of the current state-of-the-art in terms of geochemical approaches to using deep-sea coral skeletons to explore the history of the ocean. Deep-sea coral skeletons have a wide array of morphologies (e.g., solitary cup corals, branching colonial corals) and materials (calcite, aragonite and proteins). As such their biomineralization strategies are diverse, leading to complex geochemistry within coral skeletons. Notwithstanding these complications, progress has been made on developing methods for reconstructing the oceanographic environment in the past using trace elements and isotopic methods. Promising approaches within certain coral groups include clumped isotopes and Mg/Li for temperature reconstructions, boron isotopes and radiocarbon for carbon cycling, Nd, and radiocarbon for circulation studies and δ15N, P/Ca and Ba/Ca for nutrient tracer studies. Likewise there is now a range of techniques for dating deep-sea corals skeletons (e.g., U-series, radiocarbon), and determining their growth rates (e.g., radiocarbon and 210Pb). Dating studies on historic coral populations in the Atlantic, Southern Ocean and Pacific point to climate and environmental changes being dominant controls on coral populations over millennial and orbital timescales. This paper provides a review of a range of successes and promising approaches. It also highlights areas in which further research would likely provide new insights into biomineralization, palaeoceanography and distribution of past coral populations.