First discovery of dolomite and magnesite in living coralline algae and its geobiological implications

Nash, MC, Troitzsch U, Opdyke BN, Trafford JM, Russell BD, Kline DI.  2011.  First discovery of dolomite and magnesite in living coralline algae and its geobiological implications. Biogeosciences. 8:3331-3340.


australia, calcites, diagenesis, dolomitization, origin, Pleistocene, precipitation, red algae, rhodophyta, seawater


Dolomite is a magnesium-rich carbonate mineral abundant in fossil carbonate reef platforms but surprisingly rare in modern sedimentary environments, a conundrum known as the "Dolomite Problem". Marine sedimentary dolomite has been interpreted to form by an unconfirmed, post-depositional diagenetic process, despite minimal experimental success at replicating this. Here we show that dolomite, accompanied by magnesite, forms within living crustose coralline alga, Hydrolithon onkodes, a prolific global tropical reef species. Chemical micro-analysis of the coralline skeleton reveals that not only are the cell walls calcitised, but that cell spaces are typically filled with magnesite, rimmed by dolomite, or both. Mineralogy was confirmed by X-ray Diffraction. Thus there are at least three mineral phases present (magnesium calcite, dolomite and magnesite) rather than one or two (magnesium calcite and brucite) as previously thought. Our results are consistent with dolomite occurrences in coralline algae rich environments in fossil reefs of the last 60 million years. We reveal that the standard method of removing organic material prior to Xray Diffraction analysis can result in a decrease in the most obvious dolomite and magnesite diffraction patterns and this may explain why the abundant protodolomite and magnesite discovered in this study has not previously been recognized. This discovery of dolomite in living coralline algae extends the range of palaeo-environments for which biologically initiated dolomite can be considered a possible source of primary dolomite.