Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Terrence M. Quinn, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Benjamin P. Flower, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David J. Hollander, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Gary T. Mitchum, Ph.D.


paleoclimate, Vanuatu, oxygen isotopes, carbon isotopes, strontium, ENSO, interannual variability, MIS 10


Monthly δ18O and Sr/Ca records generated from modern and fossil corals from Southwestern Pacific Ocean sites in the Republic of Vanuatu are used to assess the differences in mean climate state, seasonality, and interannual variability between a glacial and interglacial period.

The modern coral contains a well-defined annual signal in δ18O and Sr/Ca. The top 40 cm of the coral used in this study has a mean δ18O value of -4.99+/-0.13%VPDB (2σ) and a mean Sr/Ca value of 8.691+/-0.015mmol/mol (2σ). El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events are characterized by positive δ18O and Sr/Ca anomalies, consistent with cooler temperatures and reduced rainfall that typifies ENSO at Vanuatu.

The ~12cm long fossil coral is dated to 346 ka + 25, - 9, based on uranium-series analysis and stratigraphic forward modeling, indicating that the fossil coral grew during MIS10 - a glacial period. X-ray diffraction, petrographic inspection, SEM analysis, and geochemical considerations indicate excellent preservation. The mean δ18O value is enriched by 0.74%, and the mean Sr/Ca value is equivalent, compared to the modern coral. Mathematical modeling of Pleistocene mean SST and SSS results in temperature estimates up to ~2˚C warmer and salinity up to ~2 psu saltier than present-day conditions, if seawater Sr/Ca were 1-2% higher in MIS10. Our fossil coral data and modeling results preclude colder SST and lower SSS at Vanuatu during MIS10. Accurate estimates of past values of seawater Sr/Ca remain the largest obstacle to accurately reconstructing past tropical SST using pristine fossil corals.

The fossil coral Sr/Ca annual range is similar to the modern range, indicating that seasonal SST ranges were similar, whereas the δ18O annual range is about half that of the modern coral, indicating weaker past seasonal salinity variations. The reduced seasonal SSS variations and increased SSTs near Vanuatu are interpreted as evidence that the SPCZ was displaced from its present location while the fossil coral lived.

The geochemical response to El Niño events in the modern coral is observed twice in the fossil coral record, indicating that ENSO-like processes are not unique to interglacial time periods, but characterize the tropical Pacific at least back to MIS 10.