Seawater 234U/238U recorded by modern and fossil corals

Peter M. Chutcharavan*, Andrea Dutton, Michael J. Ellwood

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    40 Citations (Scopus)


    U-series dating of corals is a crucial tool for generating absolute chronologies of Late Quaternary sea-level change and calibrating the radiocarbon timescale. Unfortunately, coralline aragonite is susceptible to post-depositional alteration of its primary geochemistry. One screening technique used to identify unaltered corals relies on the back-calculation of initial 234U/238U activity (δ234Ui) at the time of coral growth and implicitly assumes that seawater δ234U has remained constant during the Late Quaternary. Here, we test this assumption using the most comprehensive compilation to date of coral U-series measurements. Unlike previous compilations, this study normalizes U-series measurements to the same decay constants and corrects for offsets in interlaboratory calibrations, thus reducing systematic biases between reported δ234U values. Using this approach, we reassess (a) the value of modern seawater δ234U, and (b) the evolution of seawater δ234U over the last deglaciation. Modern coral δ234U values (145.0 ± 1.5‰) agree with previous measurements of seawater and modern corals only once the data have been normalized. Additionally, fossil corals in the surface ocean display δ234Ui values that are ∼5–7‰ lower during the last glacial maximum regardless of site, taxon, or diagenetic setting. We conclude that physical weathering of U-bearing minerals exposed during ice sheet retreat drives the increase in δ234U observed in the oceans, a mechanism that is consistent with the interpretation of the seawater Pb-isotope signal over the same timescale.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-17
    Number of pages17
    JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


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