neoma-2Fridays for Future we all know. But what about forams for future, and what are these?

mHUmaTo understand how our planet reacts to the increasing amounts of CO2 that we put into the atmosphere, geologists look at past climate variations. Clues can come from the boron isotopic composition of ancient foraminifera that lived in the ocean. Foraminifera, also called forams, are tiny species made up of calcium carbonate. During their life, forams incorporate small amounts of the element boron from seawater into their carbonate shells. When they die, they sink to the seafloor and are incorporated into the sediment layer. Consequently, their shells represent a sort of time capsule of the environment at the time the forams were alive. A marine sediment core lets us thus look into the past, back thousands or even millions of years ago.

Studying the boron isotopic composition of foraminifera can help us reconstruct ancient seawater pH, an indirect measure of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The more CO2 in the atmosphere, the more CO2 is absorbed in seawater, and the more acidic the water becomes. Boron has two isotopes, 10B and 11B. Scientists have found out that the boron isotope composition of foraminifera is predominantly determined by the acidity of the surrounding water in which they lived. When the water becomes acidic, less 11B is built into the carbonate shells. The tricky part of the story is that foraminifera are tiny — typically 0.05 millimeters to 0.5 millimeters and only contain around 0.1 nanograms (i.e. 0.0000000001 g) of boron. Analyses, done by Multicollector ICP-MS, require 10 nanograms, so a lot of foraminifera are needed in order to properly measure the boron isotope composition. Selection is time-consuming and done by hand-picking and microscope work.

The Thermo Scientific™ Neoma™ MC-ICP-MS is serving this scientific field of research. With unique capabilities such as the Jet Interface and 1013 Ω Amplifier Technology, the sensitivity of the mass spectrometer is significantly increased whereas the noise of the analyses is greatly reduced. The combination of the two is very powerful:

  • The Thermo Scientific™ Neoma™ MC-ICP-MS creates higher precision for the same sample size meaning…
  • less material is required for one analysis, so less time is spent on selecting the foraminifera, and…
  • you can look at other sea floor records that contain very low amounts of specific foraminifera species.

Samples can be measured either in solution mode, after thorough chemical separation of the boron from the sample, or in-situ by laser ablation. The Thermo Scientific™ Qtegra™ ISDS™ Software that comes with the Neoma MC-ICP-MS integrates third-party laser ablation systems through dedicated plug-ins for direct control.

Find out more about this exciting application in this case study and whiteboard video.

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