A Caltech Library Service

U-series ages of solitary corals from the California coast by mass spectrometry

Stein, M. and Wasserburg, G. J. and Lajoie, K. R. and Chen, J. H. (1991) U-series ages of solitary corals from the California coast by mass spectrometry. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 55 (12). pp. 3709-3722. ISSN 0016-7037. doi:10.1016/0016-7037(91)90069-H.

Full text is not posted in this repository. Consult Related URLs below.

Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


The purpose of this study is to evaluate the feasibility of dating fossil solitary corals from Pleistocene marine strandlines outside tropical latitudes using the recently developed high sensitivity, high-precision U-series technique based on thermal-ionization mass-spectrometry (TIMS). The TIMS technique is much more efficient than conventional a spectrometry and, as a result, multiple samples of an individual coral skeleton, or different specimens from the same bed can be analyzed. Detached and well-rounded fossil specimens of the solitary coral Balanophyllia elegans were collected from relict littoral deposits on emergent marine terraces along the California coast at Cayucos terrace (elevation 8 m, previously dated at 124 and 117 Ky by α counting), Shell Beach terrace (elevation about 25 m, previously undated), Nestor terrace, San Diego (elevation 23 m, previously dated at 131 to 109 Ky ), Bird Rock terrace, San Diego ( elevation 8 m, previously dated at 81 Ky ). Attached living specimens were collected from the intertidal zone on the modern terrace at Moss Beach. Concentrations of ^(232)Th in both living and fossil specimens are much higher than in reef-building corals (12 to 624 pmol/g vs. 0.1 to 1.6 pmol/g, respectively). However, because ^(230)Th/^(232)Th in Balanophyllia elegans are very low (2.22 × 10^(−3) to 4.33 × 10^(−4)), the high ^(232)Th concentrations have negligible effect on the ^(230)Th-^(234)U dates. The high ^(232)Th concentration in the living specimen (33.1 pmol/g) indicates that a significant amount of ^(232)Th is incorporated in the aragonitic skeleton during growth, or attached to clay-sized silicates trapped in the skeletal material. The calculated initial ^(234)U activities in the fossil specimens of Balanophyllia elegans are higher than the ^(234)U activity in modern seawater or in the modern specimen. The higher initial activities could possibly reflect the influx of ^(234)U-enriched continental water into Pleistocene coastal waters, or it could reflect minor diagenetic alteration, a persistent and fundamental problem in dating all corals. Samples from a compound specimen from the Cayucos terrace were subjected to different preparation procedures. Samples prepared by a standard acid washing procedure yielded ^(230)Th-^(234)U ages of 125, 123, and 122 Ky, whereas samples prepared by an abbreviated procedure without acid washing yield significantly lower ages of 113 and 112 Ky. Two other specimens from the same bed yielded ^(230)Th-^(234)U ages of 118 and 115 Ky. Also, two specimens from a stratigraphically higher bed yielded ages of 120 and 117 Ky, and three specimens from a lower bed yield ages of 115, 113, and 101 Ky. Nine of the twelve ages of the treated samples from the Cayucos terrace range from 125 to 113 Ky. However, the ages do not follow the stratigraphie order. Two possible interpretations are ( 1 ) the age of the terrace deposit is 125 Ky and all younger ages reflect variable diagenetic alteration or (2) the age of the terrace is 125 to 113 Ky and the ages reflect sediment reworking over a period of 12 Ky. Three specimens from a single bed on the Shell Beach terrace yield ages of 126, 122, and 121 Ky, similar to the older ages from Cayucos. The ages of solitary corals from the Cayucos and Shell Beach terraces are similar to ages of reef-building corals from terraces at numerous tropical localities. These are correlated with the last interglacial sea-level highstand, which probably stood 2 to 10 m above present sea level. The youngest ages and present elevations of the Cayucos and Shell Beach terraces yield tectonic uplift rates of 0.01 and 0.15 m/Ky, respectively, assuming the original elevation of each terrace was 7 m. Four specimens from the basal gravel on the Nestor terrace yielded ages of 145, 143, 137, and 133 Ky. The three oldest ages, however, are older than that associated with the last interglacial. The possible explanations for these older ages are ( 1 ) diagenic alteration or ( 2 ) the Nestor terrace deposits reflect in some way a poorly documented early phase of the last interglacial sea level high stand.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription DOIArticle
Wasserburg, G. J.0000-0002-7957-8029
Additional Information:© 1991 Pergamon Press. Received January 19, 1990; accepted in revised form September 17, 1991. This work was supported by NSF grant NSF OCE 87-21774 and DOE grant DE-FG03-88ER13851. This is Contribution No. 4829 (682) from the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology. Editorial handling: H. P. Schwarcz
Funding AgencyGrant Number
NSFOCE 87-21774
Department of Energy (DOE)DE-FG03-88ER13851
Other Numbering System:
Other Numbering System NameOther Numbering System ID
Caltech Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences4829
Lunatic Asylum Lab682
Issue or Number:12
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20131101-084434768
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:M Stein, G.J Wasserburg, K.R Lajoie, J.H Chen, U-series ages of solitary corals from the California coast by mass spectrometry, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, Volume 55, Issue 12, December 1991, Pages 3709-3722, ISSN 0016-7037, (
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:42172
Deposited By: Ruth Sustaita
Deposited On:01 Nov 2013 16:17
Last Modified:10 Nov 2021 16:19

Repository Staff Only: item control page