350 Year Cloud Reconstruction Deduced from Northeast Caribbean Coral Proxies
Abstract:Clouds are a major factor influencing the global climate and its response to external forcing through their implications for the global hydrological cycle, and hence for the planetary radiative budget. Clouds also contribute to regional climates and their variability through, e.g., the changes they induce in regional precipitation patterns. There have been very few studies of decadal and longer-term changes in cloud cover in the tropics and sub-tropics, both over land and the ocean. In the tropics, there is great uncertainty regarding how global warming will affect cloud cover. Observational satellite data are too short to unambiguously discern any temporal trends in cloud cover.
Corals generally live in well-mixed coastal regions and can often record environmental conditions of large areas of the upper ocean. This is particularly the case at low latitudes. Scleractinian corals are sessile, epibenthic fauna, and the type of environmental information recorded at the location where the coral has been living is dependent upon the species of coral considered and proxy index of interest. Skeletons of scleractinian corals are considered to provide among the best records of high-resolution (sub-annual) environmental variability in the tropical and sub-tropical oceans.
Zooxanthellate hermatypic corals in tropical and sub-tropical seas precipitate CaCO3 skeletons as they grow. This growth is made possible through the manufacture of CaCO3crystals, facilitated by the zooxanthellae. During the process of crystallization, the holobiont binds carbon of different isotopes into the crystals. Stable carbon isotope concentrations vary with a variety of environmental conditions. In the Caribbean, d13C in corals of the species Montastraea faveolata can be used as a proxy for changes in cloud cover. In this contribution, we will demonstrate that the stable isotope 13C varies concomitantly with cloud cover for the northeastern Caribbean region. Using this proxy we have been able to reconstruct cloud cover conditions back to the year 1760 and thus determine historical cloud cover prior to the recent use of instrumental records. We will also discuss how our coral proxy record of cloud cover compares to paleo-climate model runs for the same time period.