Calcium Compounds

Calcium, combined with phosphate to form hydroxylapatite, is the mineral portion of human and animal bones and teeth. The mineral portion of some corals can also be transformed into hydroxylapatite.

Calcium hydroxide (slaked lime) is used in many chemical refinery processes and is made by heating limestone at high temperature (above 825 °C) and then carefully adding water to it. When lime is mixed with sand, it hardens into a mortar and is turned into plaster by carbon dioxide uptake. 

Mixed with other compounds, lime forms an important part of Portland cement.

Calcium carbonate (CaCO3) is one of the common compounds of calcium. It is heated to form quicklime (CaO), which is then added to water (H2O). This forms another material known as slaked lime (Ca(OH)2), which is an inexpensive base material used throughout the chemical industry. Chalk, marble, and limestone are all forms of calcium carbonate.

When water percolates through limestone or other soluble carbonate rocks, it partially dissolves the rock and causes cave formation and characteristic stalactites and stalagmites and also forms hard water. Other important calcium compounds are calcium nitrate, calcium sulfide, calcium chloride, calcium carbide, calcium cyanamide and calcium hypochlorite.

A few calcium compounds in the oxidation state +1 have also been investigated recently. The best studied of these processes is the mass dependent fractionation of calcium isotopes that accompanies the precipitation of calcium minerals, such as calcite, aragonite and apatite, from solution. Isotopically light calcium is preferentially incorporated into minerals, leaving the solution from which the mineral precipitated enriched in isotopically heavy calcium. 

At room temperature the magnitude of this fractionation is roughly 0.25‰ (0.025%) per atomic mass unit (AMU). Mass-dependant differences in calcium isotope composition conventionally are expressed the ratio of two isotopes (usually 44Ca/40Ca) in a sample compared to the same ratio in a standard reference material. 44Ca/40Ca varies by about 1% among common earth materials.

Calcium isotope fractionation during mineral formation has led to several applications of calcium isotopes. In particular, the 1997 observation by Skulan and DePaolo that calcium minerals are isotopically lighter than the solutions from which the minerals precipitate is the basis of analogous applications in medicine and in paleooceanography. 

In animals with skeletons mineralized with calcium the calcium isotopic composition of soft tissues reflects the relative rate of formation and dissolution of skeletal mineral. In humans changes in the calcium isotopic composition of urine have been shown to be related to changes in bone mineral balance. When the rate of bone formation exceeds the rate of bone resorption, soft tissue 44Ca/40Ca rises. Soft tissue 44Ca/40Ca falls when bone resorption exceeds bone formation. Because of this relationship, calcium isotopic measurements of urine or blood may be useful in the early detection of metabolic bone diseases like osteoporosis.

A similar system exists in the ocean, where seawater 44Ca/40Ca tends to rise when the rate of removal of Ca2+ from seawater by mineral precipitation exceeds the input of new calcium into the ocean, and fall when calcium input exceeds mineral precipitation. It follows that rising 44Ca/40Ca corresponds to falling seawater Ca2+ concentration, and falling 44Ca/40Ca corresponds to rising seawater Ca2+ concentration. In 1997 Skulan and DePaolo presented the first evidence of change in seawater 44Ca/40Ca over geologic time, along with a theoretical explanation of these changes. 

More recent papers have confirmed this observation, demonstrating that seawater Ca2+ concentration is not constant, and that the ocean probably never is in “steady state” with respect to its calcium input and output. This has important climatological implications, as the marine calcium cycle is closely tied to the carbon cycle (see below).

Further Reading

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