Articles | Volume 15, issue 4
Biogeosciences, 15, 1079–1091, 2018
Biogeosciences, 15, 1079–1091, 2018

Technical note 22 Feb 2018

Technical note | 22 Feb 2018

Technical note: An empirical method for absolute calibration of coccolith thickness

Saúl González-Lemos1,*, José Guitián2,*, Miguel-Ángel Fuertes3, José-Abel Flores3, and Heather M. Stoll1,2 Saúl González-Lemos et al.
  • 1Department of Geology, University of Oviedo, Oviedo, 33005, Spain
  • 2Department of Earth Sciences, ETH Zurich, Zurich, 8092, Switzerland
  • 3Department of Geology, University of Salamanca, Salamanca, 37008, Spain
  • *These authors contributed equally to this work.

Abstract. As major calcifiers in the open ocean, coccolithophores play a key role in the marine carbon cycle. Because they may be sensitive to changing CO2 and ocean acidification, there is significant interest in quantifying past and present variations in their cellular calcification by quantifying the thickness of the coccoliths or calcite plates that cover their cells. Polarized light microscopy has emerged as a key tool for quantifying the thickness of these calcite plates, but the reproducibility and accuracy of such determinations has been limited by the absence of suitable calibration materials in the thickness range of coccoliths (0–4 µm). Here, we describe the fabrication of a calcite wedge with a constant slope over this thickness range, and the independent determination of calcite thickness along the wedge profile. We show how the calcite wedge provides more robust calibrations in the 0 to 1.55 µm range than previous approaches using rhabdoliths. We show the particular advantages of the calcite wedge approach for developing equations to relate thickness to the interference colors that arise in calcite in the thickness range between 1.55 and 4 µm. The calcite wedge approach can be applied to develop equations relevant to the particular light spectra and intensity of any polarized light microscope system and could significantly improve inter-laboratory data comparability.

Short summary
Changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide affect ocean chemistry and the ability of marine organisms to manufacture shells from calcium carbonate. We describe a technique to obtain more reproducible measurements of the thickness of calcium carbonate shells made by microscopic marine algae called coccolithophores, which will allow researchers to compare how the shell thickness responds to variations in ocean chemistry in the past and present.
Final-revised paper