Articles | Volume 8, issue 11
Biogeosciences, 8, 3331–3340, 2011
Biogeosciences, 8, 3331–3340, 2011

Research article 15 Nov 2011

Research article | 15 Nov 2011

First discovery of dolomite and magnesite in living coralline algae and its geobiological implications

M. C. Nash1, U. Troitzsch1, B. N. Opdyke1, J. M. Trafford2, B. D. Russell3, and D. I. Kline4 M. C. Nash et al.
  • 1Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Acton, ACT, 0200, Australia
  • 2Geoscience Australia, GPO Box 378 Canberra ACT 2601 Australia
  • 3Southern Seas Ecology Laboratories, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, 5005, Australia
  • 4Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California, 92093, USA and Coral Reef Ecosystems Laboratory, School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, 4072, Australia

Abstract. Dolomite is a magnesium-rich carbonate mineral abundant in fossil carbonate reef platforms but surprisingly rare in modern sedimentary environments, a conundrum known as the "Dolomite Problem". Marine sedimentary dolomite has been interpreted to form by an unconfirmed, post-depositional diagenetic process, despite minimal experimental success at replicating this. Here we show that dolomite, accompanied by magnesite, forms within living crustose coralline alga, Hydrolithon onkodes, a prolific global tropical reef species. Chemical micro-analysis of the coralline skeleton reveals that not only are the cell walls calcitised, but that cell spaces are typically filled with magnesite, rimmed by dolomite, or both. Mineralogy was confirmed by X-ray Diffraction. Thus there are at least three mineral phases present (magnesium calcite, dolomite and magnesite) rather than one or two (magnesium calcite and brucite) as previously thought. Our results are consistent with dolomite occurrences in coralline algae rich environments in fossil reefs of the last 60 million years. We reveal that the standard method of removing organic material prior to Xray Diffraction analysis can result in a decrease in the most obvious dolomite and magnesite diffraction patterns and this may explain why the abundant protodolomite and magnesite discovered in this study has not previously been recognized. This discovery of dolomite in living coralline algae extends the range of palaeo-environments for which biologically initiated dolomite can be considered a possible source of primary dolomite.

Final-revised paper