Biological effects on uranium isotope fractionation (238U/235U) in primary biogenic carbonates

Xinming Chen, Stephen J. Romaniello, Achim D. Herrmann, Elias Samankassou, Ariel Anbar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Determining whether U isotopes are fractionated during incorporation into biogenic carbonates could help to refine the application of 238U/235U in CaCO3 as a robust paleoredox proxy. Recent laboratory experiments have demonstrated that heavy uranium (U) isotopes were preferentially incorporated into abiotic aragonite, with an isotope fractionation of ∼0.10‰ (238U/235U). In contrast, no detectable U isotope fractionation has been observed in most natural primary biogenic carbonates, but the typical measurement precision of these studies was ±0.10‰ and so could not resolve a fractionation of the magnitude observed in the laboratory. To resolve this issue, we have developed a high precision 238U/235U method (±0.02‰ 2 SD) and utilized it to investigate 238U/235U in primary biogenic carbonates including scleractinian corals, calcareous green and red algae, echinoderms, and mollusks, as well as ooids from the Bahamas, Gulf of California, and French Polynesia. Our results reveal that many primary biogenic carbonates indeed fractionate U isotopes during U incorporation, and that this fractionation is in the same direction as observed in abiotic CaCO3 coprecipitation experiments. However, the magnitude of isotope fractionation in biogenic carbonates is often smaller than that predicted by abiotic CaCO3 coprecipitation experiments (0.00–0.09‰ vs. 0.11 ± 0.02‰), suggesting that one or more processes suppress U isotope fractionation during U incorporation into biogenic carbonates. We propose that closed-system behavior due to the isolation of the local calcificiation sites from ambient seawater, and/or kinetic/disequilibrium isotope fractionation caused by carbonate growth kinetics, explains this observation. Our results indicate that U isotope fractionation between biogenic carbonates and seawater might help to constrain U partition coefficients, carbonate growth rates, or seawater chemistry during coprecipitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • Biological effects
  • Primary carbonates
  • The Bahamas
  • U/U

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


Dive into the research topics of 'Biological effects on uranium isotope fractionation (238U/235U) in primary biogenic carbonates'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this