Sponges as Proxies for Past Climate Change Events

  • Carina Sim-SmithEmail author
  • Michael Ellwood
  • Michelle Kelly


An understanding of past environmental conditions and the processes that govern change is essential in order to predict future climate changes. Historical environmental conditions can be reconstructed based on the composition of mineral skeletons of marine organisms. Some marine sponges, such as the hypercalcified (‘sclerosponge’) sponges, the desma-bearing (‘lithistid’) sponges and hexactinellid (glass) sponges, are estimated to live for hundreds to thousands of years. These sponges accrete elements in isotopic equilibrium with seawater, making them good potential Paleoclimate indicators. We review the literature on the use of sponges as proxies for climate change. The accuracy of sponge proxy data is highly dependent on the accuracy of dating methods, and multiple samples per specimen are recommended to confirm the reproducibility of results. δ13Carbon values in shallow-water hypercalcified sponges appear to be a good proxy for atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, with good correlations between δ13carbon measurements from sponge skeletons and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Results using δ18oxygen values and strontium/calcium ratios as proxies for temperature are mixed, and results appear to be influenced by sponge species and region. δ30Silicon values in siliceous sponge spicules from dated sediment cores appear to be a good proxy for long-term changes in ocean silicon concentrations. Quantification of zinc/silicon and germanium/silicon ratios in sponges also show potential as proxies for ocean silicon concentrations, but more research is needed in this area. In summary, research on a number of sponge proxies has shown promising results for use as Paleoclimate indicators. Application of these proxies generally produces climatic reconstructions that are in agreement with published results from other proxies. However, much more research is needed to further develop sponge proxies and to gain a better understanding of the processes that control both the incorporation of the proxy within the sponge and its concentration in the surrounding water.


Porifera Paleoclimate Proxy Temperature Carbon dioxide 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carina Sim-Smith
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michael Ellwood
    • 2
  • Michelle Kelly
    • 3
  1. 1.ClearSight Consultants LtdAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.Research School of Earth SciencesThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research LtdAucklandNew Zealand

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