Impact of warming events on reef-scale temperature variability as captured in two Little Cayman coral Sr/Ca records

Document Type


Publication Date



The rising temperature of the world's oceans is affecting coral reef ecosystems by increasing the frequency and severity of bleaching and mortality events. The susceptibility of corals to temperature stress varies on local and regional scales. Insights into potential controlling parameters are hampered by a lack of long term in situ data in most coral reef environments and sea surface temperature (SST) products often do not resolve reef-scale variations. Here we use 42 years (1970-2012) of coral Sr/Ca data to reconstruct seasonal- to decadal-scale SST variations in two adjacent but distinct reef environments at Little Cayman, Cayman Islands. Our results indicate that two massive Diploria strigosa corals growing in the lagoon and in the fore reef responded differently to past warming events. Coral Sr/Ca data from the shallow lagoon successfully record high summer temperatures confirmed by in situ observations (>33°C). Surprisingly, coral Sr/Ca from the deeper fore reef is strongly affected by thermal stress events, although seasonal temperature extremes and mean SSTs at this site are reduced compared to the lagoon. The shallow lagoon coral showed decadal variations in Sr/Ca, supposedly related to the modulation of lagoonal temperature through varying tidal water exchange, influenced by the 18.6 year lunar nodal cycle. Our results show that reef-scale SST variability can be much larger than suggested by satellite SST measurements. Thus, using coral SST proxy records from different reef zones combined with in situ observations will improve conservation programs that are developed to monitor and predict potential thermal stress on coral reefs.

Publication Title

Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems

First Page Number


Last Page Number




This document is currently not available here.