Actual and anticipated petrographic effects of carbonate undersaturation in shallow seawater

Abstract

In the near future, atmospheric carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels may cause the surface layers of the ocean to become generally under saturated with calcium carbonate. The hypothetic sedimentary effects of such an event are here discussed in the light of studies in the Skagerrak Bay, North Sea. In this area, near shore sediments in the depth range 0–40 m are affected by present-day carbonate dissolution. Not surprisingly, evidence of inorganic carbonate precipitation is absent. Stages in the dissolution process are microscopic etch patterns on calcareous grains, partially dissolved grains, and finally structural breakdown and complete dissolution of skeletal elements. Mineral phases affected are calcite, aragonite, and a spectrum of magnesian calcites. Dissolution is quantitatively unimportant in living calcareous organisms, but preservation of shells and skeletons as fossils is much impeded. A future change towards similar conditions in all the world's shelf seas would certainly mean an end to the typical warm-sea carbonate sedimentation as it is known today on the Bahama Banks and in other supersaturated regions.

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