Coralline algal growth-increment widths archive North Atlantic climate variability

J. Halfar*, S. Hetzinger, W. Adey, T. Zack, G. Gamboa, B. Kunz, B. Williams, D. E. Jacob

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)


Over the past decade coralline algae have increasingly been used as archives of paleoclimate information. Encrusting coralline algae, which deposit annual growth increments in a high Mg-calcite skeleton, are amongst the longest-lived shallow marine organisms. In fact, a live-collected plant has recently been shown to have lived for at least 850. years based on radiometric dating. While a number of investigations have successfully used geochemical information of coralline algal skeletons to reconstruct sea surface temperatures, less attention has been paid to employ growth increment widths as a temperature proxy. Here we explore the relationship between growth and environmental parameters in Clathromorphum compactum collected in the subarctic Northwestern Atlantic. Results indicate that growth-increment widths of individual plants are poorly correlated with instrumental sea surface temperatures (SST). However, an averaged record of multiple growth increment-width time series from a regional network of C. compactum specimens up to 800. km apart reveals strong correlations with annual instrumental SST since 1950. Hence, similar to methods applied in dendrochronology, averaging of multiple sclerochronological records of coralline algae provides accurate climate information. A 115-year growth-increment width master chronology created from modern-collected and museum specimens is highly correlated to multidecadal variability seen in North Atlantic sea surface temperatures. Positive changes in algal growth anomalies record the well-documented regime shift and warming in the northwestern Atlantic during the 1990s. Large positive changes in algal growth anomalies were also present in the 1920s and 1930s, indicating that the impact of a concurrent large-scale regime shift throughout the North Atlantic was more strongly felt in the subarctic Northwestern Atlantic than previously thought, and may have even exceeded the 1990s event with respect to the magnitude of the warming.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-80
Number of pages10
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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