Environmental Earth Sciences

, Volume 71, Issue 4, pp 1641–1650 | Cite as

Controlling factors of the δ 11B-pH proxy and its research direction

  • J. XiaoEmail author
  • Z. D. Jin
  • Y. K. Xiao
  • M. Y. He
Original Article


Significant boron isotope fractionation occurs in nature (−70 ‰ to +75 ‰) due to the high geochemical reactivity of boron and the large relative mass difference between 10B and 11B. Since the 1990s, reconstruction of ancient seawater pH using the isotopic composition of boron in bio-carbonates (δ 11Bcarb), and then calculation of the past pCO2 have become important issues for the international isotope geochemistry community, and are called the δ 11B-pH proxy. Although many achievements have been made by this proxy, various aspects of boron systematics require rigorous evaluation. Based on the previous researches, mechanism of boron isotope fractionation, variation of boron isotope (δ 11B) in nature (especially in bio-carbonates) and controlling factors of the δ 11B-pH proxy, such as the dissociation constant of B(OH)3 in seawater (pKa), the δ 11B of seawater (δ 11BSW), the boron isotopic fractionation factor between B(OH) 4 and B(OH)3 (α 4–3), and the incorporated species of boron into bio-carbonates, are reviewed in detail and the research directions of this proxy are proposed. Generally, the controversy about pKa, δ 11Bsw, and α 4–3 is relatively less, but whether boron incorporated into bio-carbonates only in the form of B(OH) 4 remains doubtful. In the future, it is required that the physicochemical processes that control boron incorporation into carbonates be rigorously characterized and that the related chemical and isotopic fractionation be quantified. It is also necessary and important to establish a “best-fit empirically equation” between δ 11Bcarb and pH of seawater based on the precipitation experiments of inorganic or culture experiments of corals or foraminifera. In addition, extended application of the δ 11B-pH proxy to the earlier part of the Phanerozoic relying on the Brachiopods is worthy of studying. Like other geochemical indicators, there are limiting factors of δ 11B; however, it remains a very powerful tool in the reconstruction of past seawater pH at present.


Boron isotope Marine bio-carbonate δ11B-pH proxy Ancient seawater pH 



This work was financially supported by National Science Foundation of China through grants 41003012, 41103008, “Western Doctor” of the West Light Foundation of Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Key Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant KZZD-EW-04-02).


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth EnvironmentChinese Academy of SciencesXi’anChina
  2. 2.Qinghai Institute of Salt LakesChinese Academy of SciencesXiningChina

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