Articles | Volume 12, issue 4
Clim. Past, 12, 819–835, 2016

Special issue: Climatic and biotic events of the Paleogene

Clim. Past, 12, 819–835, 2016

Research article 06 Apr 2016

Research article | 06 Apr 2016

Revisiting carbonate chemistry controls on planktic foraminifera Mg /  Ca: implications for sea surface temperature and hydrology shifts over the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum and Eocene–Oligocene transition

David Evans1,2, Bridget S. Wade3, Michael Henehan2,4, Jonathan Erez5, and Wolfgang Müller1 David Evans et al.
  • 1Department of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, TW20 0EX, UK
  • 2Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA
  • 3Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK
  • 4Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, University of Southampton Waterfront Campus, European Way, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK
  • 5Earth Science Institute, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Abstract. Much of our knowledge of past ocean temperatures comes from the foraminifera Mg / Ca palaeothermometer. Several nonthermal controls on foraminifera Mg incorporation have been identified, of which vital effects, salinity, and secular variation in seawater Mg / Ca are the most commonly considered. Ocean carbonate chemistry is also known to influence Mg / Ca, yet this is rarely examined as a source of uncertainty, either because (1) precise pH and [CO32−] reconstructions are sparse or (2) it is not clear from existing culture studies how a correction should be applied. We present new culture data of the relationship between carbonate chemistry and Mg / Ca for the surface-dwelling planktic species Globigerinoides ruber and compare our results to data compiled from existing studies. We find a coherent relationship between Mg / Ca and the carbonate system and argue that pH rather than [CO32−] is likely to be the dominant control. Applying these new calibrations to data sets for the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) and Eocene–Oligocene transition (EOT) enables us to produce a more accurate picture of surface hydrology change for the former and a reassessment of the amount of subtropical precursor cooling for the latter. We show that pH-adjusted Mg / Ca and δ18O data sets for the PETM are within error of no salinity change and that the amount of precursor cooling over the EOT has been previously underestimated by  ∼ 2 °C based on Mg / Ca. Finally, we present new laser-ablation data of EOT-age Turborotalia ampliapertura from St. Stephens Quarry (Alabama), for which a solution inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS) Mg / Ca record is available (Wade et al., 2012). We show that the two data sets are in excellent agreement, demonstrating that fossil solution and laser-ablation data may be directly comparable. Together with an advancing understanding of the effect of Mg / Casw, the coherent picture of the relationship between Mg / Ca and pH that we outline here represents a step towards producing accurate and quantitative palaeotemperatures using this proxy.

Short summary
We show that seawater pH exerts a substantial control on planktic foraminifera Mg / Ca, a widely applied palaeothermometer. As a result, temperature reconstructions based on this proxy are likely inaccurate over climatic events associated with a significant change in pH. We examine the implications of our findings for hydrological and temperature shifts over the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and for the degree of surface ocean precursor cooling before the Eocene-Oligocene transition.