Research Article

A 35-million-year record of seawater stable Sr isotopes reveals a fluctuating global carbon cycle

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Science  26 Mar 2021:
Vol. 371, Issue 6536, pp. 1346-1350
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz9266

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Carbon cycle history

Marine carbon includes organic and inorganic components, both of which must be accounted for to understand the global carbon cycle. Paytan et al. assembled a record of stable strontium isotopes (88Sr and 86Sr) derived from pelagic marine barite and used it to reconstruct changes in the deposition and burial of biogenic calcium carbonate in marine sediments. These data, when combined with measurements of 87Sr/86Sr, can help to reveal past changes in the sources and sinks of strontium, as well as variations in carbonate deposition that affect the carbon cycle.

Science, this issue p. 1346


Changes in the concentration and isotopic composition of the major constituents in seawater reflect changes in their sources and sinks. Because many of the processes controlling these sources and sinks are tied to the cycling of carbon, such records can provide insights into what drives past changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate. Here, we present a stable strontium (Sr) isotope record derived from pelagic marine barite. Our δ88/86Sr record exhibits a complex pattern, first declining between 35 and 15 million years ago (Ma), then increasing from 15 to 5 Ma, before declining again from ~5 Ma to the present. Numerical modeling reveals that the associated fluctuations in seawater Sr concentrations are about ±25% relative to present-day seawater. We interpret the δ88/86Sr data as reflecting changes in the mineralogy and burial location of biogenic carbonates.

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