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Marine algae are instrumental in carbon cycling and atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) regulation. One group, coccolithophores, uses carbon to photosynthesize and to calcify, covering their cells with chalk platelets (coccoliths). How ocean acidification influences coccolithophore calcification is strongly debated, and the effects of carbonate chemistry changes in the geological past are poorly understood. This paper relates degree of coccolith calcification to cellular calcification, and presents the first records of size-normalized coccolith thickness spanning the last 14 Myr from tropical oceans. Degree of calcification was highest in the low-pH, high-CO2 Miocene ocean, but decreased significantly between 6 and 4 Myr ago. Based on this and concurrent trends in a new alkenone ɛp record, we propose that decreasing CO2 partly drove the observed trend via reduced cellular bicarbonate allocation to calcification. This trend reversed in the late Pleistocene despite low CO2, suggesting an additional regulator of calcification such as alkalinity.