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The chromium isotopic composition of seawater and marine carbonates

Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2013.09.001
  • Chromium Isotopes
  • Seawater
  • Marine Carbonates
  • Weathering


Abstract Chromium isotopes are fractionated during redox reactions and have the potential to provide a record of changes in the oxygenation levels of the oceans in the geological past. However, Cr is a trace metal in seawater and its low concentrations make isotopic measurements challenging. Here we report the first determinations of δCr53 for seawater from open ocean (Argentine Basin) and coastal (Southampton Water) settings, using a double-spike technique. The total chromium concentration in seawater from Southampton Water is 1.85 nM, whereas the Cr content of Argentine Basin samples is 5.8–6.6 nM. The δCr53 value of seawater from the Argentine Basin is 0.491–0.556‰ in intermediate and deep waters, and varies between 0.412 and 0.664‰ in surface waters (<150 m). The δCr53 value of Southampton Water seawater is 1.505‰, which may reflect in situ reduction of Cr(VI) to Cr(III). All of our seawater samples have higher δCr53 than crustal and mantle silicates, and mass balance modelling demonstrates that river water must also be enriched in heavy Cr isotopes, indicating that Cr isotopes are fractionated during weathering and/or during transport to the oceans. We also show that the Cr isotopic composition of modern non-skeletal marine carbonates (0.640– 0.745‰) encompasses the range that we measure for Argentine Basin seawater. Thus, fractionation of Cr isotopes during precipitation of these marine carbonates is likely to be small (<0.2‰), and they have the potential to provide a record of the Cr isotopic composition of ancient seawater. Phanerozoic carbonates are also characterised by heavy δCr53 and a correlation between δCr53 and Ce/Ce⁎ suggests that the Cr and Ce cycles in the ocean are linked.

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