A Cenozoic record of seawater uranium in fossil corals

Anne M. Gothmann, John Andrew Higgins, Jess F. Adkins, Wally Broecker, Kenneth A. Farley, Ryan McKeon, Jarosław Stolarski, Noah Planavsky, Xiangli Wang, Michael L. Bender

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13 Scopus citations


We measured U/Ca ratios, 4 He concentrations, 234 U/ 238 U, and 238 U/ 235 U in a subset of well-preserved aragonitic scleractinian fossil corals previously described by Gothmann et al. (2015). Comparisons of measured fossil coral He/U ages with the stratigraphic age demonstrate that well-preserved coral aragonite retains most or all of its radiogenic He for 10’s of millions of years. Such samples must be largely or entirely free of alteration, including neomorphism. Measurements of 234 U/ 238 U and 238 U/ 235 U further help to characterize the fidelity with which the original U concentration has been preserved. Analyses of fossil coral U/Ca show that the seawater U/Ca ratio rose by a factor of 4–5 between the Early Cenozoic and today. Possible explanations for the observed increase include (1) the stabilization of U in seawater due to an increase in seawater [CO 3 2− ], and a resulting increase in UO 2 -CO 3 complexation as originally suggested by Broecker (1971); (2) a decrease in the rate of low-temperature hydrothermal alteration from Early Cenozoic to present, leading to a diminished U sink and higher seawater [U]; or (3) a decrease in uranium removal in reducing sediments, again leading to higher seawater [U].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-190
Number of pages18
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


  • Cenozoic
  • Fossil coral
  • Seawater chemistry
  • Uranium isotopes


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