1Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Acton, ACT, 0200, Australia
2Geoscience Australia, GPO Box 378 Canberra ACT 2601 Australia
3Southern Seas Ecology Laboratories, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, 5005, Australia
4Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California, 92093, USA
5Coral Reef Ecosystems Laboratory, School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, 4072, Australia
Abstract. Dolomite is a magnesium-rich carbonate mineral abundant in fossil carbonate reef platforms but surprisingly rare in modern sedimentary environments, a conundrum known as the ''Dolomite Problem". Marine sedimentary dolomite has been interpreted to form by an unconfirmed, post-depositional diagenetic process, despite minimal experimental success at replicating this. Here we show that dolomite, accompanied by magnesite, forms within living crustose coralline alga, Hydrolithon onkodes, a prolific global tropical reef species. Chemical micro-analysis of the coralline skeleton reveals that not only are the cell walls calcitised, but that cell spaces are typically filled with magnesite, rimmed by dolomite, or both. Mineralogy was confirmed by X-ray diffraction. Thus there are at least three mineral phases present (magnesium calcite, dolomite and magnesite) rather than one or two (magnesium calcite and brucite) as previously thought. Our results are consistent with dolomite occurrences in coralline algae rich environments in fossil reefs. Instead of a theory of post-depositional dolomitisation, we present evidence revealing biomineralization that can account for the massive formations seen in the geologic record. Additionally, our findings imply that previously unrecognized dolomite and magnesite have formed throughout the Holocene. This discovery together with the scale of coralline algae dominance in past shallow carbonate environments raises the possibility that environmental factors driving this biological dolomitisation process have influenced the global marine magnesium/calcium cycle. Perhaps, most importantly, we reveal that what has been considered a geological process can be a biological process, having many implications for both disciplines.