Reviews and syntheses: Revisiting the boron systematics of aragonite and their application to coral calcification

Thomas M. DeCarlo, Michael Holcomb, Malcolm T. McCulloch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


The isotopic and elemental systematics of boron in aragonitic coral skeletons have recently been developed as a proxy for the carbonate chemistry of the coral extracellular calcifying fluid. With knowledge of the boron isotopic fractionation in seawater and the B/Ca partition coefficient (K-D) between aragonite and seawater, measurements of coral skeleton delta B-11 and B/Ca can potentially constrain the full carbonate system. Two sets of abiogenic aragonite precipitation experiments designed to quantify K-D have recently made possible the application of this proxy system. However, while different K-D formulations have been proposed, there has not yet been a comprehensive analysis that considers both experimental datasets and explores the implications for interpreting coral skeletons. Here, we evaluate four potential K-D formulations: three previously presented in the literature and one newly developed. We assess how well each formulation reconstructs the known fluid carbonate chemistry from the abiogenic experiments, and we evaluate the implications for deriving the carbonate chemistry of coral calcifying fluid. Three of the K-D formulations performed similarly when applied to abiogenic aragonites precipitated from seawater and to coral skeletons. Critically, we find that some uncertainty remains in understanding the mechanism of boron elemental partitioning between aragonite and seawater, and addressing this question should be a target of additional abiogenic precipitation experiments. Despite this, boron systematics can already be applied to quantify the coral calcifying fluid carbonate system, although uncertainties associated with the proxy system should be carefully considered for each application. Finally, we present a user-friendly computer code that calculates coral calcifying fluid carbonate chemistry, including propagation of uncertainties, given inputs of boron systematics measured in coral skeleton.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2819-2834
Number of pages16
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2018


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