Reduced continental weathering and marine calcification linked to late Neogene decline in atmospheric CO2

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The globally averaged calcite compensation depth has deepened by several hundred metres in the past 15 Myr. This deepening has previously been interpreted to reflect increased alkalinity supply to the ocean driven by enhanced continental weathering due to the Himalayan orogeny during the late Neogene period. Here we examine mass accumulation rates of the main marine calcifying groups and show that global accumulation of pelagic carbonates has decreased from the late Miocene epoch to the late Pleistocene epoch even though CaCO3 preservation has improved, suggesting a decrease in weathering alkalinity input to the ocean, thus opposing expectations from the Himalayan uplift hypothesis. Instead, changes in relative contributions of coccoliths and planktonic foraminifera to the pelagic carbonates in relative shallow sites, where dissolution has not taken its toll, suggest that coccolith production in the euphotic zone decreased concomitantly with the reduction in weathering alkalinity inputs as registered by the decline in pelagic carbonate accumulation. Our work highlights a mechanism whereby, in addition to deep-sea dissolution, changes in marine calcification acted to modulate carbonate compensation in response to reduced weathering linked to the late Neogene cooling and decline in atmospheric partial pressure of carbon dioxide.

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Fig. 1: Deep-sea sites plotted with gridded seafloor %CaCO3 (ref. 40).
Fig. 2: Changes in MARc in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Fig. 3: Improved preservation of foraminifera in the western equatorial Pacific.
Fig. 4: Changes in MARc, MAR-foram and MAR-coccolith.
Fig. 5: Proposed conceptual model for changes in carbonate production, dissolution and accumulation in the late Neogene.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available within the supplementary information files.


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We thank M.-P. Aubry for discussion on coccolithophorid taxonomy and evolution, D. Bord for help with nanno-biostratigraphy and the age model, R. Toggweiler for carbonate burial in modern oceans, and X. Zhou for ICP-OES analysis. This work has been partially supported by NSF-OCE grant 634573 to Y.R.

Author information

W.S. and Y.R. conceived the idea of a global synthesis of late Neogene mass accumulation rate on pelagic carbonate, foraminifera and coccoliths. W.S. performed the experiments and produced the figures. Both authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Correspondence to Weimin Si.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary discussions, tables and figures.

Supplementary Table 1

Age model data.

Supplementary Table 2

Carbonate mass accumulation rate records.

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