Effect of organic matrices on the determination of the trace element chemistry (Mg, Sr, Mg/Ca, Sr/Ca) of aragonitic bivalve shells (Arctica islandica) - Comparison of ICP-OES and LA-ICP-MS data

Bernd R. Schöne, Zengjie Zhang, Dorrit Jacob, David P. Gillikin, Thomas Tütken, Dieter Garbe-Schönberg, Ted McConnaughey, Analía Soldati

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106 Citations (Scopus)


The element chemistry of biogenic carbonates can provide important data on past environments. However, the Sr/Ca and Mg/Ca ratios as well as the Mg and Sr concentrations of biological carbonates, especially aragonitic bivalves often depart from apparent thermodynamic equilibrium. When measured in situ by means of LA-ICP-MS, the Mg concentration is often substantially enriched (two-to threefold) near the organic-rich, annual growth lines. To test the hypothesis that some organic components exert a major influence on the skeletal metal content, the element chemistry of different shell components (insoluble organic matrix, IOM; dissolved CaCO3 and soluble organics, SOM) of Arctica islandica was measured by means of ICP-OES and LA-ICP-MS. The ICP-OES data indicate that the IOM is strongly enriched in Mg (130 ppm) and depleted in Sr and Ca (10 ppm and 0.22 wt%, respectively) when compared to the whole biomineral (Mg: 68 to 99 ppm, Sr: 860 to 1, 060 ppm, Ca: ∼35.72 wt%). Although the average relative abundance of the IOM barely exceeds 0.46 wt%, its chemical composition in combination with its heterogeneous distribution across the shell can significantly increase estimates of the Mg concentration if measured in situ by LA-ICP-MS. Depending on the distribution of the IOM, the Ca concentration may be significantly lower locally than the average Ca concentration of the whole shell (35.72 wt%). If this remains undetected, the Mg concentration of shell portions with higher than average IOM content is overestimated by LA-ICP-MS and, conversely, the Mg concentration is underestimated in shell portions with lower than average IOM content. Removal of the IOM prior to the chemical analysis by LA-ICP-MS or mathematical correction for the IOM-derived magnesium concentrations is therefore strongly advised. The different chemistry of the IOM may also exert a major control on the trace element to calcium ratios. Shell portions enriched in IOM will show up to 200 times higher Mg/Ca and up to two times higher Sr/Ca ratios than the average shell of A. islandica. Without removal of the IOM prior to the analysis, Mg/Ca and Sr/Ca ratios of shell portions with higher IOM content cannot be used as paleothermometers. Because it is currently impossible to remove the IOM prior to chemical analyses by LA-ICP-MS, we recommend the use of wet chemical techniques (= possibility to separate and measure individual shell components) such as ICP-OES at the expense of lower sampling resolution. The results of this study will significantly improve our understanding of shellbased climate and environmental proxies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-37
Number of pages15
JournalGeochemical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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