Paleosalinity from trace metals in fossil ostracodes compared with observational records at Devils Lake, North Dakota, USA

Daniel R. Engstrom, Sharron R. Nelson

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121 Scopus citations


The chemistry of closed-basin lakes responds directly to the hydrologic budget through evaporative concentration of dissolved salts, and the sediments of these basins contain several excellent fossil and geochemical proxies for past changes in water chemistry and salinity. The trace-metal content of ostracode shells, among the most promising of these paleosalinity methods, is further explored in this study of Mg and Sr partitioning in Candona rawsoni, a widespread ostracode of the North American Great Plains. The molar distribution coefficients KD[Mg] and KD[Sr] for this species, KD<[Mg]= (Mg/Ca)CaCO3-0.004 (Mg2+/Ca2+)H2O=9.68×10-5 ×T(°C)KD[Sr]= (Sr/Ca)CaCO3 (Sr2+/Ca2+)H2Oz=0.406 are determined from laboratory experiments in which C. rawsoni are cultured under controlled temperatures and salinities. Our formulation of KD[Mg] contains a correction term for excess Mg that is incorporated into the shell during early calcification. The accuracy of the distribution coefficients is tested against field collections of live ostracodes from a suite of 12 Dakota lakes. The KD-inferred values for (Mg2+/Ca2+)H2O and (Sr2+/Ca2+)H2O are in close accord with the same ratios measured in the lakes. A comparison of ostracode-reconstructed and historically measured salinities for Devils Lake, North Dakota, shows good agreement within the salinity range preferred by C. rawsoni (1-10%0), although salinity excursions beyond this optimum are poorly represented in the sedimentary record. In most lakes salinity is more readily inferred from (Mg/Ca)H2O than (Sr/Ca)H2O because Sr solubility is a complex function of several carbonate phases. As shown for Devils Lake, (Sr/Ca)H2O may not vary systematically with the salinity of some brines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-312
Number of pages18
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 1991

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge the field assistance of A. J. Smith, S. C. Fritz, G. O. Seltzer and H.E. Wright. A. J. Smith provided valuable counsel on ostracode collection and culture, and J. Kroening assisted in the analytical work. We especially thank P. De Deckker and S. C. Fritz for encouragement and advice throughout the course of the project, and H. E. Wright, P. De Deckker, and J. M. G. Shelley for critically reading the manuscript. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (BSR-8415866 and a REU supplement).


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