Geological Magazine


Climatic and oceanographic isotopic signals from the carbonate rock record and their preservation

James D. Marshalla1

a1 Department of Earth Sciences, University of Liverpool, P.O. Box 147, Liverpool L69 3BX, U.K.


Stable isotopic data from marine limestones and their constituent fossils and marine cements can provide quantitative evidence for changes in global climate and ocean circulation. Oxygen isotopic data can indicate changes in temperature and ocean composition whereas stratigraphic variation in carbon isotope ratios may reflect changes in the carbon cycle that can be linked to changes in oceanic productivity and atmospheric greenhouse gases. Terrestrial carbonates–meteoric cements, calcretes and speleothems–similarly offer significant potential for understanding the evolution of terrestrial climates by providing evidence for the composition of rainwater and the nature of vegetative cover.

Primary environmental isotopic signals may be obscured by the effects of post-depositional diagenetic alteration. Cementation and replacement reactions can take place in a wide range of diagenetic environments; the diagenetic history of an individual limestone is determined by a combination of its mineralogical diagenetic potential and depositional setting, together with subsequent changes in relative sea-level and burial history. Carbon isotopic values are less prone to alteration during diagenesis than oxygen values but shifts can be significant where organogenic carbon is incorporated. Linear covariation of carbon and oxygen values is not a reliable indicator of diagenetic alteration: water-rock interaction and fluid mixing may produce non-linear distributions.

Attempts to determine long-term changes in climatic and oceanographie conditions through isotope stratigraphy of shallow-water limestones must include an assessment of the diagenetic history of the materials analysed. Pétrographic examination using conventional microscopy backed up, where appropriate, by cathodoluminescence and scanning electron microscopy together with elemental and strontium isotopic analysis can help to identify the effects of diagenetic alteration. Where material with a range of different degrees of alteration is preserved in the same sediment it may be possible to compare patterns of isotopic and elemental variation and to attempt to unravel the effects of diagenesis in order to determine primary, environmental, isotopic signals. Recent research has shown that these techniques can be successfully employed in both Phanerozoic and Precambrian sediments.

(Received November 25 1991)

(Accepted December 02 1991)

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