Perspectives on heterococcolith geochemical proxies based on high-resolution X-ray fluorescence mapping

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Abstract

Heterococcoliths are micron-scale calcite platelets produced by coccolithophores. They have been the most abundant and continuous fossil record over the last 215 million years (Myr), offering great potential for geochemical studies, although the heterococcolith fossil record remains underutilised in this domain. We have mapped heterococcoliths' composition using X-ray fluorescence (XRF) with a 100-nm resolution beam to decipher element distributions in heterococcoliths and to investigate the potential development of geochemical proxies for palaeoceanography. The study presents two Middle Jurassic Watznaueria britannica heterococcoliths from Cabo Mondego, Portugal. XRF analysis was performed with a 17 keV incident energy beam at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility ID22NI beamline to study elements from Sr down to S. Ca, Sr and Mn are distributed following the heterococcolith crystalline arrangement. Cl, Br and S display an homogeneous distribution, whereas K, Fe, Cu, Zn and Rb are concentrated at the edges and in the central area of the heterococcoliths. Distributions of K, Fe, Ti, Fe, Cu, Zn, Rb and to a lesser extent V and Cr are highly influenced by clay contamination and peripheral diagenetic overgrowth. Mn is related to diagenetic Mn-rich CaCO3 overgrowth on top of or between heterococcoliths shields. Cl and Br are likely to be present in heterococcoliths inside interstitial nano-domains. We assume that the cytoplasm [Cl−] and [Br−] are mediated and constant during heterococcolithogenesis. Assuming a linear correlation between cytoplasm [Cl−] and sea water [Cl−], heterococcolith Cl may have potential as a salinity proxy. As S is incorporated into heterococcoliths by sulphated polysaccharides, our study suggests a role for such polysaccharides in heterococcolithogenesis for at least 170 Myr. The low Sr/Ca in the W. britannica specimens studied here may either highlight an unusual cellular physiology of Mesozoic coccolithophores or result from low growth rates in oligotrophic environments.

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