Oxygen isotope composition of the Phanerozoic ocean and a possible solution to the dolomite problem

Uri Ryb*, John M. Eiler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


The 18O/16O of calcite fossils increased by ∼8 between the Cambrian and present. It has long been controversial whether this change reflects evolution in the δ18O of seawater, or a decrease in ocean temperatures, or greater extents of diagenesis of older strata. Here, we present measurements of the oxygen and ‟clumped” isotope compositions of Phanerozoic dolomites and compare these data with published oxygen isotope studies of carbonate rocks. We show that the δ18O values of dolomites and calcite fossils of similar age overlap one another, suggesting they are controlled by similar processes. Clumped isotope measurements of Cambrian to Pleistocene dolomites imply crystallization temperatures of 15–158 °C and parent waters having δ18OVSMOW values from −2 to +12. These data are consistent with dolomitization through sediment/rock reaction with seawater and diagenetically modified seawater, over timescales of 100 My, and suggest that, like dolomite, temporal variations of the calcite fossil δ18O record are largely driven by diagenetic alteration. We find no evidence that Phanerozoic seawater was significantly lower in δ18O than preglacial Cenozoic seawater. Thus, the fluxes of oxygen–isotope exchange associated with weathering and hydrothermal alteration reactions have remained stable throughout the Phanerozoic, despite major tectonic, climatic and biologic perturbations. This stability implies that a long-term feedback exists between the global rates of seafloor spreading and weathering. We note that massive dolomites have crystallized in pre-Cenozoic units at temperatures >40 °C. Since Cenozoic platforms generally have not reached such conditions, their thermal immaturity could explain their paucity of dolomites.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)6602-6607
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number26
StatePublished - 26 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 National Academy of Sciences. All Rights Reserved.


  • Clumped isotope
  • Dolomite
  • Oxygen isotope
  • Phanerozoic
  • Sea water


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