Stalagmite stable isotope record of recent tropical cyclone events


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Publication Date

January 2007


We present a 23 yr stalagmite record (1977–2000) of oxygen isotope variation, associated with 11 tropical cyclones (TCs), from Actun Tunichil Muknal cave in central Belize. High-resolution microsampling yielded a record of monthly to weekly temporal resolution that contains abrupt decreases (negative excursions) in calcite δ18O values that correspond with recent TC rain events nearby. A logistic discriminant model reliably identified TC proxy signals using the measurable parameters δ18O and δ13C values, and single point changes in δ18O value. The logistic model correctly identified 80% of excursions as TC events and incorrectly classified only 1 of nearly 1200 nonstorm sampling points. In addition to enabling high-resolution TC frequency reconstruction, this geologic proxy also provides information about the intensity of individual TCs. A multiple regression predicted TC intensity (R2 = 0.465, p = 0.034) using sampling frequency and excursion amplitude. Consistent with previous low-resolution studies, we found that the decadal average δ18O value was lower during the 1990s when several TCs produced rainfall in the area, but higher during the 1980s when only one TC struck. Longer, accurately dated, high-resolution speleothem stable isotope records may be a useful new tool for paleotempestology, to clarify associations between highly variable TC activity and the dynamic range of Quaternary climate.

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Geology, Vol. 35, no. 2 (2007).