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Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 9, issue 4
Clim. Past, 9, 1543–1557, 2013
© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Clim. Past, 9, 1543–1557, 2013
© Author(s) 2013. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 22 Jul 2013

Research article | 22 Jul 2013

Inter-annual tropical Pacific climate variability in an isotope-enabled CGCM: implications for interpreting coral stable oxygen isotope records of ENSO

T. Russon1, A. W. Tudhope1, G. C. Hegerl1, M. Collins2, and J. Tindall3 T. Russon et al.
  • 1School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, UK
  • 2College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter, EX4 4QF, UK
  • 3School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, UK

Abstract. Water isotope-enabled coupled atmosphere–ocean climate models allow for exploration of the relative contributions to coral stable oxygen isotope (δ18Ocoral) variability arising from sea surface temperature (SST) and the isotopic composition of seawater (δ18Osw). The unforced behaviour of the isotope-enabled HadCM3 coupled general circulation model suggests that the extent to which inter-annual δ18Osw variability contributes to that in model δ18Ocoral is strongly spatially dependent, ranging from being negligible in the eastern equatorial Pacific to accounting for 50% of δ18Ocoral variance in parts of the western Pacific. In these latter cases, a significant component of the inter-annual δ18Osw variability is correlated to that in SST, meaning that local calibrations of the effective local δ18Ocoral–SST relationships are likely to be essential. Furthermore, the relationship between δ18Osw and SST can be non-linear, such that the model interpretation of central and western equatorial Pacific δ18Ocoral in the context of a linear dependence on SST alone leads to overestimation (by up to 20%) of the SST anomalies associated with large El Niño events. Intra-model evaluation of a salinity-based pseudo-coral approach shows that such an approach captures the first-order features of the model δ18Osw behaviour. However, the utility of the pseudo-corals is limited by the extent of spatial variability seen within the modelled slopes of the temporal salinity–δ18Osw relationship.

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