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The Marine Oxygen Isotope Record in Pleistocene Coral, Barbados, West Indies1

  • Richard G. Fairbanks (a1) and R.K. Matthews (a2)

The reef-crest coral Acropora palmata from late Pleistocene reefs on Barbados has recorded the same global variations in oxygen isotopes as planktonic and benthonic foraminifera. Although the record of oxygen isotopes in Acropora palmata is discontinuous, it offers several advantages over the isotope records from deep-sea sediments: (1) the coral grows at water depths of less than 5 m; (2) the samples are unmixed; (3) specimens may be sampled from various elevations of paleo-sea level; and (4) aragonitic corals are suitable for 230Th/234U and He/U dating techniques. The latter advantage means that direct dating of the marine oxygen isotope record is possible. Oxygen isotope stage 5e corresponds to Barbados III, dated at 125,000 ± 6000 yr BP. Petrographic and geochemical evidence from five boreholes drilled into the south coast of Barbados indicates a major eustatic lowering (greater than 100 m below present sea level) occurred between 180,000 and 125,000 yr BP. The age and isotopic data suggest correlation of this change in sea level to Emiliani's oxygen isotope stage 6. Acropora palmata deposited at various elevations of sea level during oxygen isotope stage 6 vary by 0.11 ‰ δ18O for each 10 m of change in sea level. We further hypothesize a minimum drop of 2°C in the average temperature occurred during the regressive phase of oxygen isotope stage 6. These data indicate that temperature lowering of surface water near Barbados lagged behind a major glacial buildup during this time period. Using the δ18O vs sea level calibration herein derived, we estimate the relative height of sea stands responsible for Barbados coral reef terraces in the time range 80,000 to 220,000 yr BP.

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Contribution No. 2730, Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory.

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Quaternary Research
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