Delineation of Water Masses in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and Mediterranean Sea Using Stable Oxygen Isotope Ratios

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Amy C. Hirons

Second Advisor

Jason Gershman

Third Advisor

Curtis Burney


Stable oxygen isotope ratios (δ18O) can be used as an indicator of past climate variability as well as a predictor variable within climate forecasting models. Subtle changes in the Earth’s climate and weather systems can be detected and predicted through the composition of water molecules within water masses. Environmental changes influence the fractionation of water molecules which can, in turn, cause subtle variations in stable oxygen isotope ratios. Fluctuations in temperature and salinity due to environmental changes can alter oxygen isotope fractionation so that δ18O can be used to trace oceanic water masses. This capstone will review the recent literature on the formation, movement, and stable isotope composition of distinct water masses in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and Mediterranean Sea. These sites were chosen primarily due to their impact on ocean circulation within the North Atlantic Ocean. The water masses in these three basins each have distinct physical characteristics that identify them. Knowledge of these water masses in conjunction with δ18O can provide evidence of historic atmospheric events, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. The stable oxygen isotope ratio can be a potential indicator for future climatic episodes, monitoring of marine resources, and commercial development.

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