Growth and high-resolution paleoenvironmental signals of rhodoliths (coralline red algae): A new biogenic archive


  • Jochen Halfar,

  • Thomas Zack,

  • Andreas Kronz,

  • James C. Zachos


We investigated rhodoliths (coralline red algae) from a subtropical locality in the Gulf of California (Lithothamnium crassiusculum) and a subarctic locality in Newfoundland (Lithothamnium glaciale) for their potential as paleoenvironmental archives using microanalytical geochemical techniques to measure variations in δ18O, Mg, and Ca. Rhodoliths are potentially well suited as recorders of shallow water paleoenvironmental signals because they (1) have worldwide distribution from the tropics to polar regions, (2) are long lived from decades to centuries, and (3) display well-developed growth bands. Our results indicate that rhodolith growth bands preserve ultrahigh-resolution records of paleoceanographic-paleoclimatic change and likely constitute an important new archive for reconstructing the paleoenvironmental history of littoral-neritic areas in which these algae are found. The δ18O content of individually sampled rhodolith growth bands ranges from −2.4 to −4.6‰ in L. crassiusculum and from −3.2 to −0.3‰ in L. glaciale. In both cases, the range of δ18O values suggests a slightly lower amplitude of variation in sea surface temperature than that actually measured in the ocean at the two study sites. Both L. crassiusculum and L. glaciale show a negative offset from isotopic equilibrium. Electron microprobe analysis of magnesium and calcium in growth bands reveals cyclic variations with values ranging between 7.7–18.5 mol % MgCO3 in L. glaciale and 13.2–22.5 mol % MgCO3 in L. crassiusculum. In addition, electron microprobe element maps highlight individual growth bands, provide a powerful approach to study rhodolith formation, and indicate that the specimens we analyzed have vertical growth rates of 250–450 μm/yr.