Skip to main content

Bomb Radiocarbon and the Hawaiian Archipelago: Coral, Otoliths, and Seawater

  • Allen H Andrews (a1), Daria Siciliano (a2) (a3), Donald C Potts (a2), Edward E DeMartini (a1) and Stephannie Covarrubias (a2)...

Corals of the Hawaiian Archipelago are well situated in the North Pacific Gyre (NPG) to record how bomb-produced radiocarbon has been sequestered and transported by the sea. While this signal can be traced accurately through time in reef-building corals and used to infer oceanographic processes and determine the ages of marine organisms, a comprehensive and validated record has been lacking for the Hawaiian Archipelago. In this study, a coral core from Kure Atoll in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands was used to create a high-resolution bomb 14C record for the years 1939–2002, and was then used with other 14C measurements in fish otoliths and seawater to explore differences and similarities in the bomb 14C signal throughout the Hawaiian Archipelago. The Kure Atoll sample series produced a well-defined bomb 14C curve that, with some exceptions, was similar to other coral 14C records from the Hawaiian Archipelago. Subtle differences in the coral 14C records across the region may be explained by the large-scale ocean circulation patterns and decadal cycles of the NPG. The most rapid increase of 14C, in the 1950s and 1960s, showed similar timing across the Hawaiian Archipelago and provides a robust basis for use of bomb 14C dating to obtain high-precision age determinations of marine organisms. Reference otoliths of juvenile fish demonstrated the use of the post-peak 14C decline period as a viable reference in the age validation of younger and more recently collected fishes, and effectively extended the utility of bomb 14C dating to the latest 30 yr.

Corresponding author
*Corresponding author. Email:
Hide All
Andrews AH, Kalish JM, Newman SJ, Johnston JM. 2011. Bomb radiocarbon dating of three important reef-fish species using Indo-Pacific ∆14C chronologies. Marine and Freshwater Research 62:12591269.
Andrews AH, DeMartini EE, Brodziak J, Nichols JS, Humphreys RL. 2012. A long-lived life history for a tropical, deep-water snapper (Pristipomoides filamentosus): bomb radiocarbon and lead-radium dating as extensions of daily increment analyses in otoliths. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 69:18501869.
Andrews AH, Barnett BK, Allman RJ, Moyer RP, Trowbridge HD. 2013. Great longevity of speckled hind (Epinephelus drummondhayi), a deep-water grouper, with novel use of post-bomb radiocarbon dating in the Gulf of Mexico. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 70:11311140.
Andrews AH, Choat JH, Hamilton RJ, DeMartini EE. 2015. Refined bomb radiocarbon dating of two iconic fishes of the Great Barrier Reef. Marine and Freshwater Research 66:305316.
Baker MS, Wilson CA. 2001. Use of bomb radiocarbon to validate otolith section ages of red snapper Lutjanus campechanus from the northern Gulf of Mexico. Limnology and Oceanography 46:18191824.
Bien GS, Rakestraw NW, Suess HE. 1965. Radiocarbon in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and its relation to deep water movements. Limnology and Oceanography 10:2537.
Bonjean F, Lagerloef GSE. 2002. Diagnostic model and analysis of the surface currents in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Journal of Physical Oceanography 32:29382954.
Broecker WS, Peng T-H. 1982. Tracers in the Sea. Lamont–Doherty Geological Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, NY. 690 p.
Broecker WS, Peng T-H, Ostlund G, Stuiver M. 1985. The distribution of bomb radiocarbon in the ocean. Journal of Geophysical Research C4:69536970.
Dana TF. 1971. On the reef corals of the world’s most northern atoll (Kure: Hawaiian Archipelago). Pacific Science 25:8087.
Darrenougue N, De Deckker P, Payri C, Eggins S, Fallon S. 2013. Growth and chronology of the rhodolith-forming, coralline red alga Sporolithon durum . Marine Ecological Progress Series 474:105119.
Desch A, Wynne T, Brainard R, Friedlander A, Christensen J. 2009. Oceanographic and physical setting. In: Friedlander A, Keller K, Wedding L, Clarke A, Monaco M, editors. A Marine Biogeographic Assessment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 84. Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Silver Spring, MD. p 17–63.
Di Lorenzo E, Schneider N, Cobb KM, Franks PJS, Chhak K, Miller AJ, McWilliams JC, Bograd SJ, Arango H, Curchitser E, Powell TM, Riviére P. 2008. North Pacific Gyre oscillation links ocean climate and ecosystem change. Geophysical Research Letters 35(8):L08607.
Druffel ERM. 1987. Bomb radiocarbon in the Pacific: Annual and seasonal timescale variations. Journal of Marine Research 45:667698.
Druffel ERM. 2002. Radiocarbon in corals: records of the carbon cycle, surface circulation and climate. Oceanography 15:122127.
Druffel ERM, Griffin S. 2008. Daily variability of dissolved inorganic radiocarbon at three sites in the surface ocean. Marine Chemistry 110:185189.
Druffel ERM, Williams PM, Robertson K, Griffin S, Jull AJT, Donahue D, Toolin L, Linick TW. 1989. Radiocarbon in dissolved organic and inorganic carbon from the central North Pacific. Radiocarbon 31(3):523532.
Druffel ERM, Griffin S, Guilderson TP, Kashgarian M, Southon J, Schrag DP. 2001. Changes of subtropical north Pacific radiocarbon and correlation with climate variability. Radiocarbon 43(1):1525.
Druffel ERM, Bauer JE, Griffin S, Beaupre SR, Hwang J. 2008. Dissolved inorganic radiocarbon in the North Pacific Ocean and Sargasso Sea. Deep-Sea Research I 55:451459.
Fallon SJ, Guilderson TP. 2005. Extracting growth rates from the nonlaminated coralline sponge Astrosclera willeyana using bomb radiocarbon. Limnology and Oceanography Methods 3:455461.
Fallon SJ, Guilderson TP. 2008. Surface water processes in the Indonesian throughflow as documented by high resolution coral ∆14C. Journal of Geophysical Research 113:C09001.
Grigg RW. 1982. Darwin Point: a threshold for atoll formation. Coral Reefs 1:2934.
Grottoli AG, Eakin CM. 2007. A review of modern coral δ18O and ∆14C proxy records. Earth-Science Reviews 81(1–2):6791.
Grottoli AG, Gille ST, Druffel ERM, Dunbar RB. 2003. Decadal timescale shift in the 14C record of a central equatorial Pacific coral. Radiocarbon 45(1):9199.
Guilderson TP, Schrag DP, Kashgarian M, Southon J. 1998. Radiocarbon variability in the western equatorial Pacific inferred from a high-resolution coral record from Nauru Island. Journal of Geophysical Research 103(C11):24,64150.
Hare SR, Mantua NJ. 2000. Empirical evidence for North Pacific regime shift in 1977 and 1989. Progress in Oceanography 47:103145.
Hua Q, Barbetti M, Rakowski AZ. 2013. Atmospheric radiocarbon for the period 1950–2010. Radiocarbon 55(4):20592072.
Huwaldt JA. 2011. Plot Digitizer. Version 2.5.1. URL:
Kalish JM. 1993. Pre- and post-bomb radiocarbon in fish otoliths. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 114:549554.
Key R. 1996. WOCE Pacific Ocean radiocarbon program. Radiocarbon 38(3):415423.
Konishi K, Tanaka T, Sakanoue M. 1982. Secular variation of radiocarbon concentration in seawater: sclerochronological approach. Proceedings of the Fourth International Coral Reef Symposium 1:181185.
Kumamoto Y, Murata A, Kawano T, Watanabe S, Fukasawa M. 2013. Decadal changes in bomb-produced radiocarbon in the Pacific Ocean from the 1990s to 2000s. Radiocarbon 55(3):16411650.
Linick TW. 1975. Uptake of bomb-produced carbon-14 by the Pacific Ocean [PhD thesis]. University of California, San Diego. 255 p.
Morimoto M, Kitagawa H, Shibata Y, Kayanne H. 2004. Seasonal radiocarbon variation of surface seawater recorded in a coral from Kikai Island, subtropical Northwestern Pacific. Radiocarbon 46(2):643648.
Nydal R, Gislefoss JS. 1996. Further application of bomb 14C as a tracer in the atmosphere and ocean. Radiocarbon 38(3):389406.
Ostlund HG, Stuiver M. 1980. GEOSECS Pacific radiocarbon. Radiocarbon 22(1):2553.
Reimer PJ, Brown TA, Reimer RW. 2004. Discussion: reporting and calibration of post-bomb 14C data. Radiocarbon 46(3):12991304.
Roark EB, Guilderson TP, Dunbar RB, Ingram BL. 2006. Radiocarbon-based ages and growth rates of Hawaiian deep–sea corals. Marine Ecological Progress Series 327:114.
Rodgers KB, Schrag DP, Cane MA, Naik NH. 2000. The bomb 14C transient in the Pacific Ocean. Journal of Geophysical Research 105(C4):84898512.
Rooney J, Donham E, Montgomery A, Spalding H, Parrish F, Borland R, Fenner D, Gove J, Vetter O. 2010. Mesophotic coral ecosystems in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Coral Reefs 29:361367.
Siciliano D. 2005. Latitudinal limits to coral reef accretion: testing the Darwin point hypothesis at Kure Atoll, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, using new evidence from high resolution remote sensing and in situ data [PhD thesis]. University of California, Santa Cruz. 276 p.
Stuiver M, Polach HA. 1977. Discussion: reporting of 14C data. Radiocarbon 19(3):355363.
Stuiver M, Ostlund G, Key RM, Reimer PJ. 1996. Large volume WOCE radiocarbon sampling in the Pacific Ocean. Radiocarbon 38(3):519561.
Wara MW, Anderson LD, Schellenberg SA, Franks R, Ravelo AC, Delaney ML. 2003. Application of a radially viewed inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectrophotometer to simultaneous measurement of Mg/Ca, Sr/Ca, and Mn/Ca ratios in marine biogenic carbonates. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 4(8):8406.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0033-8222
  • EISSN: 1945-5755
  • URL: /core/journals/radiocarbon
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Andrews supplementary material
Online Appendix

 Word (431 KB)
431 KB


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 7
Total number of PDF views: 54 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 299 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 16th January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.