The Ca isotopic composition of dust-producing regions: Measurements of surface sediments in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada

Matthew S. Fantle, Heather Tollerud, Anton Eisenhauer, Chris Holmden

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28 Scopus citations


Dust is a relatively unconstrained flux in the geochemical cycle of Ca. The isotopic composition of dust-derived Ca has not been studied, though it is an important part of any attempt at deciphering Ca isotope-based proxy records. Accordingly, this study reports the elemental and calcium isotope geochemistry of 30 surface (upper ~0.5cm) sediments from an arid dust producer, the Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada. Geochemical data for sequential water and 0.5N HCl leaches, meant to sample mobile Ca, and selected leached residues are presented, along with X-ray diffraction (XRD) determinations of major mineralogy. Bulk playa sediments have Ca concentrations between 0.28 and 40wt.% (median: 6.8wt.%) and calcite concentrations of 2-32%. Isotopically, Ca sampled by water leaches (<1% of total Ca) are, on average, +0.33±0.16‰ (1SD) heavier than acid leaches (>60% of total Ca), though the degree of fractionation (Δ w-a) varies between 0‰ and 0.6‰. Acid leaches, which are the primary component of mobile Ca in the sediments, have δ 44Ca SRM-915a values of 0.78±0.08‰, similar to the δ 44Ca of modern nannofossil ooze and modern rivers. This means that dust produced in closed continental basins likely has little isotopic leverage to change the ocean's isotopic composition, and suggests that the Ca isotopic composition of dust is tied to rivers/weathering. In addition, while the Ca concentration data in the water leach suggest that evaporative evolution controls the amount of Ca in this reservoir, the isotope data are inconsistent with this conclusion. Instead, we hypothesize that adsorption of Ca on clays controls the Ca isotope systematics in the water leach. This hypothesis requires that there is no significant isotopic fractionation during evaporite mineral precipitation and may suggest that sorption at rates appropriate for natural systems might fractionate differently than sorption at laboratory rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)178-193
Number of pages16
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - Jun 15 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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