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The Suess effect in Fiji coral δ13C and its potential as a tracer of
anthropogenic CO2 uptake

Dassié, Emilie P.; Lemley, Gavin M.; Linsley, Braddock

In the context of increasing anthropogenic CO2 emissions, determining the rate of oceanic CO2 uptake is of high interest. Centennial-scale changes in δ13C of the surface water dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) reservoir have been shown to be influenced by the carbon isotopic composition of atmospheric CO2. However, the availability of direct oceanic δ13C measurements is limited and methods for reconstructing past δ13C variability of the oceanic DIC are needed. Geochemical reconstructions of DIC variability can help in understanding how the ocean has reacted to historical changes in the carbon cycle. This study explores the potential of using temporal variations in δ13C measured in five Fijian Porites corals for reconstructing oceanic δ13C variability. A centennial-scale decreasing δ13C trend is observed in these Fiji corals. Other studies have linked similar decreasing δ13C trends to anthropogenic changes in the atmospheric carbon reservoir (the “13C Suess effect”). We conclude that solar irradiance is the factor influencing the δ13C cycle on a seasonal scale, however it is not responsible for the centennial-scale decreasing δ13C trend. In addition, variations in skeletal extension rate are not found to account for centennial-scale δ13C variability in these corals. Rather, we found that water depth at which a Fijian Porites colony calcifies influences both δ13C and extension rate mean values. The water depth-δ13C relationship induces a dampening effect on the centennial-scale decreasing δ13C trend. We removed this “water depth effect” from the δ13C composite, resulting in a truer representation of δ13C variability of the Fiji surface water DIC (δ13CFiji-DIC). The centennial-scale trend in this Fiji coral composite δ13CFiji-DIC time-series shares similarities with atmospheric δ13CCO2, implicating the 13C Suess effect as the source of the this coral δ13C trend. Additionally, our study finds that the δ13C variability between the atmosphere and the ocean in this region is not synchronous; the coral δ13C response is delayed by ~ 10 years. This agrees with the previously established model of isotopic disequilibrium between atmospheric δ13CCO2 and oceanic surface water DIC.

Geographic Areas


Also Published In

Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Biology and Paleo Environment
Published Here
February 14, 2013