Spatiotemporal variability in the δ18O-salinity relationship of seawater across the tropical Pacific Ocean

Jessica L. Conroy, Diane M. Thompson, Kim M. Cobb, David Noone, Solanda Rea, Allegra N. Legrande

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The relationship between salinity and the stable oxygen isotope ratio of seawater (δ18Osw) is of utmost importance to the quantitative reconstruction of past changes in salinity from δ18O values of marine carbonates. This relationship is often considered to be uniform across water masses, but the constancy of the δ18Osw-salinity relationship across space and time remains uncertain, as δ18Osw responds to varying atmospheric vapor sources and pathways, while salinity does not. Here we present new δ18Osw-salinity data from sites spanning the tropical Pacific Ocean. New data from Palau, Papua New Guinea, Kiritimati, and Galápagos show slopes ranging from 0.09 ‰/psu in the Galápagos to 0.32‰/psu in Palau. The slope of the δ18Osw-salinity relationship is higher in the western tropical Pacific versus the eastern tropical Pacific in observations and in two isotope-enabled climate model simulations. A comparison of δ18Osw-salinity relationships derived from short-term spatial surveys and multiyear time series at Papua New Guinea and Galápagos suggests spatial relationships can be substituted for temporal relationships at these sites, at least within the time period of the investigation. However, the δ18Osw-salinity relationship varied temporally at Palau, likely in response to water mass changes associated with interannual El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) variability, suggesting nonstationarity in this local δ18Osw-salinity relationship. Applying local δ18Osw-salinity relationships in a coral δ18O forward model shows that using a constant, basinwide δ18Osw-salinity slope can both overestimate and underestimate the contribution of δ18Osw to carbonate δ18O variance at individual sites in the western tropical Pacific.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)484-497
Number of pages14
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • paleoclimate
  • salinity
  • seawater
  • stable oxygen isotope
  • tropical Pacific

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Palaeontology


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