Sea surface temperature and salinity variability at Bermuda during the end of the Little Ice Age Academic Article uri icon


  • We use geochemical and isotope measurements on a 225-year old brain coral (Diploria labyrinthiformis) from the south shore of Bermuda (64°W, 32°N) to construct a record of decadal-to-centennial-scale climate variability. The coral was collected alive, and annual density bands visible in X radiographs delineate cold and warm seasons allowing for precise dating. Coral skeletons incorporate strontium (Sr) and calcium (Ca) in relative proportions inversely to the sea surface temperature (SST) in which the skeleton is secreted. Previous studies on this and other coral colonies from this region document the ability to reconstruct mean annual and wintertime SST using Sr/Ca measurements ( Goodkin et al., 2007 , 2005). The coral-based records of SST for the past 2 centuries show abrupt shifts at both decadal and centennial timescales and suggest that SST at the end of the Little Ice Age (between 1840 and 1860) was 1.5° ± 0.4°C colder than today (1990s). Coral-reconstructed SST has a greater magnitude change than does a gridded instrumental SST record from this region. This may result from several physical processes including high rates of mesoscale eddy propagation in this region. Oxygen isotope values (? 18O) of the coral skeleton reflect changes in both temperature and the ? 18O of seawater (?Ow), where ?Ow is proportional to sea surface salinity (SSS). We show in this study that mean annual and wintertime ? 18O of the carbonate (?Oc) are correlated to both SST and SSS, but a robust, quantitative measure of SSS is not found with present calibration data. In combination, however, the Sr/Ca and ?Oc qualitatively reconstruct lower salinities at the end of the Little Ice Age relative to modern day. Temperature changes agree with other records from the Bermuda region. Radiative and atmospheric forcing may explain some of the SST variability, but the scales of implied changes in SST and SSS indicate large-scale ocean circulation impacts as well.

publication date

  • September 2008