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An experimental evaluation of the use of Δ13C as a proxy for palaeoatmospheric CO2

Lomax, Barry H.; Lake, Janice A.; Leng, Melanie J.; Jardine, Phillip E.


Barry H. Lomax

Janice A. Lake

Phillip E. Jardine


Understanding changes in atmospheric CO2 over geological time via the development of well constrained and tested proxies is of increasing importance within the Earth sciences. Recently a new proxy (identified as the C3 proxy) has been proposed that is based on the relationship between CO2 and carbon isotope discrimination (Δ13C) of plant leaf tissue. Initial work suggests that this proxy has the capacity to deliver accurate and potentially precise palaeo-CO2 reconstructions through geological time since the origins of vascular plants (∼450 Mya). However, the proposed model has yet to be fully validated through independent experiments. Using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana exposed to different watering regimes and grown over a wide range of CO2 concentrations (380, 400, 760, 1000, 1200, 1500, 2000 and 3000ppm) relevant to plant evolution we provide an experimental framework that allows for such validation. Our experiments show that a wide variation in Δ13C as a function of water availability is independent of CO2 treatment. Validation of the C3 proxy was undertaken by comparing growth CO2 to estimates of CO2 derived from Δ13C. Our results show significant differences between predicted and observed CO2 across all CO2 treatments and water availabilities, with a strong under prediction of CO2 in experiments designed to simulate Cenozoic and Mesozoic atmospheric conditions (≥1500ppm). Further assessment of Δ13C to predict CO2 was undertaken using Monte Carlo error propagation. This suite of analysis revealed a lack of convergence between predicted and observed CO2. Collectively these findings suggest that the relationship between Δ13C and CO2 is poorly constrained. Consequently the use of Δ13C as a proxy to reconstruct palaeoatmospheric CO2 is of limited use as the estimates of CO2 are not accurate when compared to known growth conditions.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Feb 15, 2019
Journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Print ISSN 0016-7037
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 247
Pages 162-174
APA6 Citation Lomax, B. H., Lake, J. A., Leng, M. J., & Jardine, P. E. (2019). An experimental evaluation of the use of Δ13C as a proxy for palaeoatmospheric CO2. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 247, 162-174.
Keywords Geochemistry and Petrology
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