Climate Dynamics

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 51–62 | Cite as

Decadal- to interannual-scale source water variations in the Caribbean Sea recorded by Puerto Rican coral radiocarbon

  • K. Halimeda Kilbourne
  • Terrence M. Quinn
  • Thomas P. Guilderson
  • Robert S. Webb
  • Frederick W. Taylor


Water that forms the Florida Current, and eventually the Gulf Stream, coalesces in the Caribbean from both subtropical and equatorial sources. The equatorial sources are made up of, in part, South Atlantic water moving northward and compensating for southward flow at depth related to meridional overturning circulation. Subtropical surface water contains relatively high amounts of radiocarbon (14C), whereas equatorial waters are influenced by the upwelling of low 14C water and have relatively low concentrations of 14C. We use a 250 year record of Δ14C in a coral from southwestern Puerto Rico along with previously published coral Δ14C records as tracers of subtropical and equatorial water mixing in the northern Caribbean. Data generated in this study and from other studies indicate that the influence of either of the two water masses can change considerably on interannual to interdecadal time scales. Variability due to ocean dynamics in this region is large relative to variability caused by atmospheric 14C changes, thus masking the Suess effect at this site. A mixing model produced using coral Δ14C illustrates the time varying proportion of equatorial versus subtropical waters in the northern Caribbean between 1963 and 1983. The results of the model are consistent with linkages between multidecadal thermal variability in the North Atlantic and meridional overturning circulation. Ekman transport changes related to tradewind variability are proposed as a possible mechanism to explain the observed switches between relatively low and high Δ14C values in the coral radiocarbon records.


Dissolve Inorganic Carbon Equatorial Water Western Boundary Current Subtropical Water World Ocean Circulation Experiment 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors wish to acknowledge funding from the Elsie and William Knight Oceanographic Fellowship and the United States National Science Foundation grant number OCE-0327420. Radiocarbon analyses were performed under the auspices of the US Department of Energy by the University of California Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (contract W-7405-Eng-48). J. R. Toggweiler and an anonymous reviewer provided constructive comments that helped us improve the manuscript. Discussions with Robert Weisberg, Denis Mayer, and Jyotika Virmani were very helpful. Amos Winter acted as our liaison with the University of Puerto Rico and introduced us to Milton Carlo who provided invaluable support for the fieldwork. Impromptu help in the field by Peter K. Swart was also greatly appreciated. Comments by Benjamin Flower and Frank Muller-Karger helped the authors improve earlier versions of the manuscript. Data will be archived with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s World Data Center for Paleoclimatology.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. Halimeda Kilbourne
    • 1
    • 5
  • Terrence M. Quinn
    • 1
    • 2
  • Thomas P. Guilderson
    • 3
    • 4
  • Robert S. Webb
    • 5
  • Frederick W. Taylor
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Marine ScienceUniversity of South FloridaSt. PetersburgUSA
  2. 2.Institute for GeophysicsThe John A. and Katherine G. Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  3. 3.Center for Accelerator Mass SpectrometryLawrence Livermore National LaboratoryLivermoreUSA
  4. 4.Department of Ocean Sciences and Institute of Marine ScienceUniversity of California at Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA
  5. 5.NOAA, Earth System Research LaboratoryBoulderUSA

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