Reconstructing medieval climate in the tropical North Atlantic with corals from Anegada, British Virgin Islands

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 9:15 AM
Kelly H Kilbourne and Yuan-yuan Xu, University of Maryland Center (UMCES CBL) for Environmental Science Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, Solomons, MD, United States
Resolving the patterns of climate variability during the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) is key for exploring forced versus unforced variability during the last 1000 years. Tropical Atlantic climate is currently not well resolved during the MCA despite it being an important source of heat and moisture to the climate system today. To fill this data gap, we collected cores from Diploria strigosa corals brought onto the low-lying island of Anegada, British Virgin Islands (18.7˚N, 64.3˚S) during an overwash event and use paired analysis of Sr/Ca and δ18O in the skeletal aragonite to explore climate in the tropical Atlantic at the end of the MCA. The three sub-fossil corals used in this analysis overlap temporally and together span the years 1256-1372 C.E. An assessment of three modern corals from the study site indicates that the most robust features of climate reconstructions using Sr/Ca and δ18O in this species are the seasonal cycle and inter-annual variability. The modern seasonal temperature range is 2.8 degrees Celsius and the similarity between the modern and sub-fossil coral Sr/Ca indicates a similar range during the MCA. Today seasonal salinity changes locally are driven in large part by the migration of a regional salinity front. The modern corals capture the related large seasonal seawater δ18O change, but the sub-fossil corals indicate stable seawater δ18O throughout the year, supporting the idea that this site remained on one side of the salinity front continuously throughout the year. Inter-annual variability in the region is influenced by the cross-equatorial SST gradient, the North Atlantic Oscillation and ENSO. Gridded instrumental SST from the area surrounding Anegada and coral geochemical records from nearby Puerto Rico demonstrate concentrations of variance in specific frequency bands associated with these phenomena. The sub-fossil coral shows no concentration of variance in the modern ENSO frequency band, consistent with reduced ENSO variability found in central Pacific corals growing at the same time.