• electron microprobe;
  • Mg/Ca;
  • planktonic foraminifera;
  • sample size;
  • single test;
  • Sr/Ca

[1] The variability in Mg/Ca and Sr/Ca within individual tests and chambers of tests, and samples consisting of differing numbers of individuals, was determined for Globigerina bulloides and Globorotalia truncatulinoides in a North Atlantic core top sample (52.918°N 16.917°W′). The variability in Mg/Ca and Sr/Ca within individual tests and chambers was determined by electron microprobe, and samples consisting of variable sample size were measured using inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer (ICP-OES). Large compositional heterogeneity was found within individual chambers, and within the test as a whole, of the two species and the presence of regions with up to ∼10 mmol/mol Mg/Ca, especially in G. bulloides. Mean Mg/Ca decreases in successive chambers of G. bulloides (especially the 300–355 μm fraction) and is accompanied by decreasing variance but is not statistical significant. Sr/Ca is much more homogeneously distributed, with a normal distribution, and shows no differences from chamber to chamber. The variability of Mg/Ca and Sr/Ca decreases with increasing sample size, from single to five to twenty tests per sample, approximately as for a normal distribution, with greater variability for G. bulloides than for G. truncatulinoides, equivalent to uncertainties in temperature (n = 20) of 1.1°C and 0.7°C for the two species within the whole of the sediment mixed layer.