In geological outcrops and drill cores from reef frameworks, the skeletons of scleractinian corals are usually leached and more or less completely transformed into sparry calcite because the highly porous skeletons formed of metastable aragonite (CaCO3) undergo rapid diagenetic alteration. Upon alteration, ghost structures of the distinct annual growth bands often allow for reconstructions of annual extension (=growth) rates, but information on skeletal density needed for reconstructions of calcification rates is invariably lost. This report presents the bulk density, extension rates and calcification rates of fossil reef corals which underwent minor diagenetic alteration only. The corals derive from unlithified shallow water carbonates of the Florida platform (south-eastern USA), which formed during four interglacial sea level highstands dated approximately 3.2, 2.9, 1.8, and 1.2 Ma in the mid-Pliocene to early Pleistocene. With regard to the preservation, the coral skeletons display smooth growth surfaces with minor volumes of marine aragonite cement within intra-skeletal porosity. Within the skeletal structures, voids are commonly present along centres of calcification which lack secondary cements. Mean extension rates were 0.44±0.19 cm yr-1 (range 0.16 to 0.86 cm yr-1/, mean bulk density was 0.96±0.36 g cm-3 (range 0.55 to 1.83 g cm-3/ and calcification rates ranged from 0.18 to 0.82 g cm-2 yr-1 (mean 0.38±0.16 g cm-2 yr-1/, values which are 50% of modern shallow-water reef corals. To understand the possible mechanisms behind these low calcification rates, we compared the fossil calcification rates with those of modern zooxanthellate corals (z corals) from the Western Atlantic (WA) and Indo-Pacific calibrated against sea surface temperature (SST). In the fossil data, we found a widely analogous relationship with SST in z corals from the WA, i.e. density increases and extension rate decreases with increasing SST, but over a significantly larger temperature window during the Plio-Pleistocene. With regard to the environment of coral growth, stable isotope proxy data from the fossil corals and the overall structure of the ancient shallow marine communities are consistent with a well-mixed, open marine environment similar to the present-day Florida Reef Tract, but variably affected by intermittent upwelling. Upwelling along the platform may explain low rates of reef coral calcification and inorganic cementation, but is too localised to account also for low extension rates of Pliocene z corals throughout the tropical WA region. Low aragonite saturation on a more global scale in response to rapid glacial-interglacial CO2 cyclicity is also a potential factor, but Plio- Pleistocene atmospheric pCO2 is generally believed to have been broadly similar to the present day. Heat stress related to globally high interglacial SST only episodically moderated by intermittent upwelling affecting the Florida platform seems to be another likely reason for low calcification rates. From these observations we suggest some present coral reef systems to be endangered from future ocean warming.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Earth-Surface Processes