HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

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Defense Date


Document Type

Dissertation - NSU Access Only

Degree Name

Ph.D. Oceanography/Marine Biology


Oceanographic Center

First Advisor

Richard E. Dodge

Second Advisor

Bernhard Riegl

Third Advisor

Curtis M. Burney

Fourth Advisor

Peter K. Swart


The presence of annual density banding in certain long-lived reef-building corals provides a record of the coral’s growth rate over time in response to changing environmental conditions. Coral growth is best described by three parameters: linear extension, bulk density, and calcification. Coral growth is generally controlled by the combined influences of light, temperature, and water quality; however, corals are highly responsive to their surrounding conditions and thus record environmental variations through their rates and patterns of skeletal accretion. Because coral growth rates reflect environmental conditions over time, they allow testing of hypotheses regarding the effects of climate change, more specifically global warming which affects sea surface temperatures and rising atmospheric carbon dioxide which affect the aragonite saturation state of seawater. Influences on coral growth include local changes in sea surface temperature and rainfall as well as large scale climatic indices such as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI).

Chapter 1, Background, reviews the current state of knowledge in three primary areas: 1) coral biology, growth, density band formation, and measurement of extension, density, and calcification, 2) potential climate change impacts on coral growth, and 3) long-term coral growth records. This section is broadly intended to review the literature, identify possible information gaps, and recognize current debate within coral and climate change research.

Chapter 2, Sample Size for Coral Sclerochronology, presents data of sample size correlations based on statistical analyses of annual extension rates. A standardized period (1970-1985) of annual extension rates from the largest number of Montastraea faveolata samples available from southeast Florida (136 corals) was used to test correlation on varying spatial scales and to determine sample size requirements for desired levels of correlation based on objective criteria. The results provide basic information on masterchronology construction for sclerochronological growth rate studies and provide a framework from which further growth rate variability can be assessed.

Extension and bulk density can be measured from X-ray films of coral skeletal slabs and can be used to calculate calcification. Chapter 3, Relative Optical Densitometry, describes the techniques and associated errors through the process of coral coring, sectioning, X-raying, developing, digitizing, calibrating and analyzing. The principles of relative optical densitometry and the calculation of mass absorption coefficient ratios for aragonite and aluminum standards are explained. Calculated and measured errors are quantified to define the accuracy and precision of these techniques necessary to detect potentially subtle changes in coral growth caused by climate change.

Coral cores from the Florida Key, USA, were used to construct growth records over a 60-yr period from 1973-1996. Chapter 4, Coral Growth Records and Climate Change, uses linear extension rate, bulk-density, and calcification rate from annual and sub-annual bands in order to assess: 1) growth averages, variability, and relationships between growth parameters, 2) long term trends with respect to rising carbon dioxide levels and sea surface temperature, 3) correlation with local environmental variables of temperature and rainfall, and 4) correlation with major climate indices of Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, North Atlantic Oscillation, and the Southern Oscillation.


B-5241-2011, 0000-0002-9906-5845

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