Eocene seasonality and seawater alkaline earth reconstruction using shallow-dwelling large benthic foraminifera

David Evans, Wolfgang Müller, Shai Oron, Willem Renema

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Intra-test variability in Mg/Ca and other (trace) elements within large benthic foraminifera (LBF) of the family Nummulitidae have been investigated using laser-ablation inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS). These foraminifera have a longevity and size facilitating seasonal proxy retrieval and a depth distribution similar to 'surface-dwelling' planktic foraminifera. Coupled with their abundance in climatically important periods such as the Paleogene, this means that this family of foraminifera are an important but under-utilised source of palaeoclimatic information. We have calibrated the relationship between Mg/Ca and temperature in modern Operculina ammonoides and observe a ~2% increase in Mg/Ca°C-1. O. ammonoides is the nearest living relative of the abundant Eocene genus Nummulites, enabling us to reconstruct mid-Eocene tropical sea surface temperature seasonality by applying our calibration to fossil Nummulites djokdjokartae from Java. Our results indicate a 5-6°C annual temperature range, implying greater than modern seasonality in the mid-Eocene (Bartonian). This is consistent with seasonal surface ocean cooling facilitated by enhanced Eocene tropical cyclone-induced upper ocean mixing, as suggested by recent modelling results. Analyses of fossil N. djokdjokartae and Operculina sp. from the same stratigraphic interval demonstrate that environmental controls on proxy distribution coefficients are the same for these two genera, within error. Using previously published test-seawater alkaline earth metal distribution coefficients derived from an LBF of the same family (Raitzsch et al., 2010) and inorganic calcite, with appropriate correction systematics for secular Mg/Casw variation (Evans and Müller, 2012), we use our fossil data to produce a more accurate foraminifera-based Mg/Casw reconstruction and an estimate of seawater Sr/Ca. We demonstrate that mid-Eocene Mg/Casw was ≲2molmol -1, which is in contrast to the model most commonly used to correct deep-time Mg/Ca data from foraminifera, but in agreement with most other Paleogene proxy and model data. This indicates that Mg/Casw has undergone a substantial (3-4 × ) rise over the last ~40Ma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-115
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2013


  • Deep-time
  • Eocene
  • Large benthic foraminifera
  • Mg/Ca
  • Nummulites
  • Operculina
  • Seasonality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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