Fine-scale growth patterns in coral skeletons: biochemical control over crystallization of aragonite fibres and assessment of early diagenesis
J. P. Cuif, Y. Dauphin, A. Meibom, C. Rollion-Bard, M. Salomé, J. Susini, C. T. Williams, 2008. "Fine-scale growth patterns in coral skeletons: biochemical control over crystallization of aragonite fibres and assessment of early diagenesis", Biogeochemical Controls on Palaeoceanographic Environmental Proxies, W. E. N. Austin, R. H. James
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Recent works have paved the way for an understanding of the scale at which environmental signals might be recorded in coral skeletons. In this paper, the resulting structural and chemical insights are exemplified by a Goniastrea corallite. The bulk of the coral skeleton consists of fibrous aragonite, which in turn is constructed by sequential growth of micrometre thick layers, oriented parallel to the local growth direction. These growth layers consist of nanograins (50–100 nm) of aragonite that appear to be crystallized in close association with a matrix, conceivably proteoglycans, which seem to coat individual nanograins. These observations contradict the traditional notion that coral fibre consists of ‘a single crystal of orthorhombic aragonite’.
Additionally, the ultrastructural observations provide us with criteria to assess early diagenetic effects. Some Lower Norian corals from South Anatolia (Turkey) display extremely well-preserved mineralogy and structures. They have also preserved the organic components of their skeletons from which it has been demonstrated, through a study of the Nitrogen isotopic composition, that photosynthesis was involved in the metabolism of these early Scleractinia. But even in these remarkably preserved corals, we find evidence for diagenetic changes at the nanometre scale, concerning both the amount of organic matrices and the appearance of the aragonitic nano-granular units. Such micro-structural observations call for caution when interpreting isotopic effects in the fossil coral record.
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Most of our information about the evolution of Earth’s ocean-climate system comes from the analysis of sediments laid down in the past. For example, the microfossil assemblage reflects the temperature, salinity and nutrient abundance of the water in which the organisms lived, while the chemical and isotopic composition of biogenic carbonates may be used to reconstruct past variations in the operation of the carbon cycle, as well as changes in ocean circulation.
Nevertheless, understanding the link between these sediment variables (or ‘proxies’) and environmental conditions is not straightforward. This volume adopts a novel approach by bringing together palaeontologists, geochemists and palaeoceanographers, who contribute evidence that is required to better constrain these proxies. Topics include: (i) processes of biomineralization, and their effect on the chemical and isotopic composition of different organisms; (ii) proxy validation, including field, laboratory and theoretical studies; (iii) the links between modern and fossil organisms.