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Keywords:

  • Carbonate diagenesis;
  • meteoric diagenesis;
  • neomorphism;
  • rare earth elements;
  • scleractinian coral;
  • trace element geochemistry

Abstract

Rare earth element geochemistry in carbonate rocks is utilized increasingly for studying both modern oceans and palaeoceanography, with additional applications for investigating water–rock interactions in groundwater and carbonate diagenesis. However, the study of rare earth element geochemistry in ancient rocks requires the preservation of their distribution patterns through subsequent diagenesis. The subjects of this study, Pleistocene scleractinian coral skeletons from Windley Key, Florida, have undergone partial to complete neomorphism from aragonite to calcite in a meteoric setting; they allow direct comparison of rare earth element distributions in original coral skeleton and in neomorphic calcite. Neomorphism occurred in a vadose setting along a thin film, with degradation of organic matter playing an initial role in controlling the morphology of the diagenetic front. As expected, minor element concentrations vary significantly between skeletal aragonite and neomorphic calcite, with Sr, Ba and U decreasing in concentration and Mn increasing in concentration in the calcite, suggesting that neomorphism took place in an open system. However, rare earth elements were largely retained during neomorphism, with precipitating cements taking up excess rare earth elements released from dissolved carbonates from higher in the karst system. Preserved rare earth element patterns in the stabilized calcite closely reflect the original rare earth element patterns of the corals and associated reef carbonates. However, minor increases in light rare earth element depletion and negative Ce anomalies may reflect shallow oxidized groundwater processes, whereas decreasing light rare earth element depletion may reflect mixing of rare earth elements from associated microbialites or contamination from insoluble residues. Regardless of these minor disturbances, the results indicate that rare earth elements, unlike many minor elements, behave very conservatively during meteoric diagenesis. As the meteoric transformation of aragonite to calcite is a near worst case scenario for survival of original marine trace element distributions, this study suggests that original rare earth element patterns may commonly be preserved in ancient limestones, thus providing support for the use of ancient marine limestones as proxies for marine rare earth element geochemistry.