Caribbean Salinity Experiment (CASE): Investigations on Coral Skeletal Characteristics
Richard E. Dodge, Ph.D.
Ph.D. Graduate Student: Kevin P. Helmle
The Caribbean Salinity Experiment (CASE) is intended to reconstruct long-term historical salinity and temperature profiles from coral skeletons along with records of coral extension, density, and calcification. The CASE collection, along with current holdings, spans a 15o latitudinal range of the Caribbean.
This range is equivalent to the length of the Great Barrier Reef and is an unprecedented survey of the Caribbean. This information will enable testing of various coral growth models and allow historical tracking of water circulation and inputs from the subtropical Atlantic Gyre, cross-equatorial thermohaline transport, and the temporal/spatial extent of the Western Hemisphere Warm Pool (WHWP) in the Caribbean.
Project and Findings
Researchers from Nova Southeastern University, the University of Miami, and the University of South Florida participated in a 52-day cruise to collect coral cores from the Windward and Leeward Islands in the Caribbean: St. Thomas, St. Croix, Barbuda, Antigua, St. Marten, St. Kitts, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent/Grenadines. This collection effort was a collaboration between the National Coral Reef Institute (NCRI), Dr. Richard E. Dodge; the National Center for Caribbean Coral Reef Research (NCORE) and the Stable Isotope Laboratory at RSMAS (SIL), Dr. Peter K. Swart; and the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO)/USF, Dr. Terry Quinn.
NCRI researchers have sectioned and X-radiographed the coral cores to reveal the quality and length of the annual density-band record from which appropriate cores will be chosen for isotopic and elemental analysis. Relative optical densitometry analysis of selected cores will provide long-term records of coral growth consisting of extension, density, and calcification.
Implications for Management
Management of coral reefs under changing climatic conditions requires an understanding of known responses of corals to these changes. Historical coral growth and proxy records provide one means of identifying the in situ response of corals to past environmental change. By expanding the range of coral collections throughout the Caribbean, coral growth will be assessed across a broader environmental gradient while providing wide-ranging proxy data to better understand the historical conditions to which coral have been exposed.
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