Carbonate compensation depth
Calcite compensation depth (CCD) is the depth in the oceans below which the rate of supply of calcite (calcium carbonate) lags behind the rate of solvation, such that no calcite is preserved. Aragonite compensation depth (hence ACD) describes the same behaviour in reference to aragonitic carbonates. Aragonite is more soluble than calcite, so the aragonite compensation depth is generally shallower than the calcite compensation depth.
Calcium carbonate is essentially insoluble in sea surface waters today. Shells of dead calcareous plankton sinking to deeper waters are practically unaltered until reaching the lysocline where the solubility increases dramatically. By the time the CCD is reached all calcium carbonate has dissolved according to this equation:
Calcareous plankton and sediment particles can be found in the water column above the CCD. If the sea bed is above the CCD, bottom sediments can consist of calcareous sediments called calcareous ooze, which is essentially a type of limestone or chalk. If the exposed sea bed is below the CCD tiny shells of CaCO3 will dissolve before reaching this level, preventing deposition of carbonate sediment. As the sea floor spreads, thermal subsidence of the plate, which has the effect of increasing depth, may bring the carbonate layer below the CCD; the carbonate layer may be prevented from chemically interacting with the sea water by overlying sediments such as a layer of siliceous ooze or abyssal clay deposited on top of the carbonate layer.
Variations in value of the CCD
The exact value of the CCD depends on the solubility of calcium carbonate which is determined by temperature, pressure and the chemical composition of the water - in particular the amount of dissolved CO2 in the water. Calcium carbonate is more soluble at lower temperatures and at higher pressures. It is also more soluble if the concentration of dissolved CO2 is higher. Adding a reactant to the above chemical equation pushes the equilibrium towards the right producing more products: Ca2+ and HCO3−, and consuming more reactants CO2 and calcium carbonate according to Le Chatelier's principle.
At the present time the CCD in the Pacific Ocean is about 4200 - 4500 metres except beneath the equatorial upwelling zone, where the CCD is about 5000 m. In the temperate and tropical Atlantic Ocean the CCD is at approximately 5000 m. In the Indian Ocean it is intermediate between the Atlantic and the Pacific 4300 meters. The variation in the depth of the CCD largely results from the length of time since the bottom water has been exposed to the surface; this is called the "age" of the water mass. Thermohaline circulation determines the relative ages of the water in these basins. Because organic material, such as fecal pellets from copepods, sink from the surface waters into deeper water, deep water masses tend to accumulate dissolved carbon dioxide as they age. The oldest water masses have the highest concentrations of CO2 and therefore the shallowest CCD. The CCD is relatively shallow in high latitudes with the exception of the North Atlantic and regions of Southern Ocean where downwelling occurs. This downwelling brings young, surface water with relatively low concentrations of carbon dioxide into the deep ocean, depressing the CCD.
In the geological past the depth of the CCD has shown significant variation. In the Cretaceous through to the Eocene the CCD was much shallower globally than it is today; due to intense volcanic activity during this period atmospheric CO2 concentrations were much higher. Higher concentrations of CO2 resulted in a higher partial pressure of CO2 over the ocean. This greater pressure of atmospheric CO2 leads to increased dissolved CO2 in the ocean mixed surface layer. This effect was somewhat moderated by the deep oceans' elevated temperatures during this period. In the late Eocene the transition from a greenhouse to an icehouse Earth coincided with a deepened CCD.
John Murray investigated and experimented on the dissolution of calcium carbonate and was first to identify the carbonate compensation depth in oceans.
- Thurman, Harold., Alan Trujillo. Introductory Oceanography.2004.p151-152
- "Warmer than a Hot Tub: Atlantic Ocean Temperatures Much Higher in the Past". Physorg.com. February 17, 2006.