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Crystallographic and chemical signatures in coral skeletal aragonite

2021-11-29 , Farfan, Gabriela A. , Apprill, Amy , Cohen, Anne L. , DeCarlo, Thomas M. , Post, Jeffrey E. , Waller, Rhian G. , Hansel, Colleen M.

Corals nucleate and grow aragonite crystals, organizing them into intricate skeletal structures that ultimately build the world’s coral reefs. Crystallography and chemistry have profound influence on the material properties of these skeletal building blocks, yet gaps remain in our knowledge about coral aragonite on the atomic scale. Across a broad diversity of shallow-water and deep-sea scleractinian corals from vastly different environments, coral aragonites are remarkably similar to one another, confirming that corals exert control on the carbonate chemistry of the calcifying space relative to the surrounding seawater. Nuances in coral aragonite structures relate most closely to trace element chemistry and aragonite saturation state, suggesting the primary controls on aragonite structure are ionic strength and trace element chemistry, with growth rate playing a secondary role. We also show how coral aragonites are crystallographically indistinguishable from synthetic abiogenic aragonite analogs precipitated from seawater under conditions mimicking coral calcifying fluid. In contrast, coral aragonites are distinct from geologically formed aragonites, a synthetic aragonite precipitated from a freshwater solution, and mollusk aragonites. Crystallographic signatures have future applications in understanding the material properties of coral aragonite and predicting the persistence of coral reefs in a rapidly changing ocean.