Coral records of radiocarbon variability in the central tropical pacific during the last millennium
Zaunbrecher, Laura Katharine
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Ocean circulation changes in the tropical Pacific strongly influence global climate, as demonstrated during El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) extremes. Understanding the causes of past variability in tropical Pacific circulation and their relationship to climate change will help to predict how future climate may evolve under anthropogenic radiative forcing. I measure fossil coral radiocarbon (Δ¹⁴C) from Palmyra (6°N, 162°W) and Christmas (2°N, 157°W) Islands in the central tropical Pacific to reconstruct high-resolution records of tropical Pacific ocean circulation variability over the last millennium. Variations in coral Δ¹⁴C from Palmyra and Christmas reflect a combination of the atmospheric concentration of ¹⁴C at the time of growth, Δ¹⁴C-depleted waters associated with equatorial upwelling, and Δ¹⁴C -enriched waters advected from the western tropical Pacific. Existing oxygen isotopic (δ ¹⁸O) records of the Palmyra and Christmas fossil corals reveal a rich history of interannual to centennial variability in sea-surface temperature (SST) and salinity over the last millennium [Cobb et al., 2003b]. My approach targets specific time intervals associated with strong interannual to centennial-scale coral δ ¹⁸O anomalies for high-resolution Δ¹⁴C analysis. Seasonally-resolved Δ¹⁴C measurements are used to compare interannual Δ¹⁴C variability across the 10th, 13th, 15th, 17th, and 20th centuries. Annually-resolved Δ¹⁴C measurements are used to compare decadal to centennial-scale Δ¹⁴C variations from the 10th, 12th - 15th and 17th centuries. SEM photos are used to assess the fidelity of the coral Δ¹⁴C records with respect to post-depositional alteration of the coral skeleton. I find evidence for minor dissolution and addition of secondary aragonite, but my results indicate that coral Δ¹⁴C is only compromised after moderate to severe diagenesis. Despite strong ENSO signals in modern and fossil coral δ ¹⁸O, our data show no statistically significant interannual variability in coral ¹⁴C. There is a centennial-scale increase in coral radiocarbon from the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA, ~900-1200AD) to the Little Ice Age (LIA, ~1500-1800). I use a box model of central tropical Pacific Δ¹⁴C contributions to show that this centennial-scale trend over the last millennium is largely explained by centennial-scale changes in atmospheric ¹⁴C. However, large 12th century depletions in Palmyra coral ∆¹⁴C data cannot be explained by atmospheric ¹⁴C variability and likely reflect a roughly two-fold increase in upwelling and/or a significant change in the ¹⁴C of higher-latitude source waters reaching the equatorial Pacific during this time. Conversely, significantly enriched Christmas coral ∆¹⁴C values during the 16th century are consistent with a two-fold reduction in upwelling strength and/or the advection of high-¹⁴C waters to the equatorial thermocline from higher latitudes.