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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Geochemistry of corals: proxies of past ocean chemistry, ocean circulation, and climate.

Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

This paper presents a discussion of the status of the field of coral geochemistry as it relates to the recovery of past records of ocean chemistry, ocean circulation, and climate. The first part is a brief review of coral biology, density banding, and other important factors involved in understanding corals as proxies of environmental variables. The second part is a synthesis of the information available to date on extracting records of the carbon cycle and climate change. It is clear from these proxy records that decade time-scale variability of mixing processes in the oceans is a dominant signal. That Western and Eastern tropical Pacific El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) records differ is an important piece of the puzzle for understanding regional and global climate change. Input of anthropogenic CO2 to the oceans as observed by 13C and 14C isotopes in corals is partially obscured by natural variability. Nonetheless, the general trend over time toward lower delta18O values at numerous sites in the world's tropical oceans suggests a gradual warming and/or freshening of the surface ocean over the past century.

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