Salinity controls on Na incorporation in Red Sea planktonic foraminifera

E. M. Mezger*, L. J. de Nooijer, W. Boer, G. J A Brummer, G. J. Reichart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Whereas several well-established proxies are available for reconstructing past temperatures, salinity remains challenging to assess. Reconstructions based on the combination of (in)organic temperature proxies and foraminiferal stable oxygen isotopes result in relatively large uncertainties, which may be reduced by application of a direct salinity proxy. Cultured benthic and planktonic foraminifera showed that Na incorporation in foraminiferal shell calcite provides a potential independent proxy for salinity. Here we present the first field calibration of such a potential proxy. Living planktonic foraminiferal specimens from the Red Sea surface waters were collected and analyzed for their Na/Ca content using laser ablation quadrupole inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Using the Red Sea as a natural laboratory, the calibration covers a broad range of salinities over a steep gradient within the same water mass. For both Globigerinoides ruber and Globigerinoides sacculifer calcite Na/Ca increases with salinity, albeit with a relatively large intraspecimen and interspecimen variability. The field-based calibration is similar for both species from a salinity of ~36.8 up to ~39.6, while values for G. sacculifer deviate from this trend in the northernmost transect. It is hypothesized that the foraminifera in the northernmost part of the Red Sea are (partly) expatriated and hence should be excluded from the Na/Ca-salinity calibration. Incorporation of Na in foraminiferal calcite therefore provides a potential proxy for salinity, although species-specific calibrations are still required and more research on the effect of temperature is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1562-1582
Number of pages21
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • Na/Ca
  • planktonic foraminifera
  • Red Sea
  • salinity proxy


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