The silicon isotope composition (δ30Si) of biogenic opal provides a view of the silica cycle at times in the past. Reconstructions require the knowledge of silicon isotope fractionation during opal biomineralization. The δ30Si of specimens of hexactinellid sponges and demosponges growing in the modern ocean ranged from −1.2‰ to −3.7‰ (n = 6), corresponding to the production of opal that has a δ30Si value 3.8‰ ± 0.8‰ more negative than seawater silicic acid and a fractionation factor (α) of 0.9964. This is three times the fractionation observed during opal formation by marine diatoms and terrestrial plants and is the largest fractionation of silicon isotopes observed for any natural process on Earth. The δ30Si values of sponge spicules across the Eocene-Oligocene boundary at Ocean Drilling Program Site 689 on Maud Rise range from −1.1‰ to −3.0‰, overlapping the range observed for sponges growing in modern seawater.

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