Stable oxygen isotope ratios (δ18O) of coral skeletons are influenced by ambient water temperature and by the oxygen isotope ratio in the surrounding sea water, which, in turn, is linked to evaporation (salinity) and precipitation. To investigate this relationship more
thoroughly, we collected hourly temperature data from the Hen and Chickens Reef in the Florida Keys between 1975 and 1988 and compared them to the δ18O of Montastraea annularis skeleton that grew during the same interval. To ensure that we obtained the correct oxygen
isotopic range in the skeleton we typically sampled the coral at a resolution of 20–30 samples in 1 year; in 1 year we sampled the coral at a resolution of 70 samples·year−1. Despite our high-resolution sampling, we were unable to obtain the full temperature-induced
δ18O range in the skeleton. Our data suggest that, during the summer, evaporation causes isotopic enrichment in the water, partially masking the temperature-induced signal. Our data also show that oxygen isotopic composition of seawater at the reef has increased since 1981.
This increase indicates that salinity has increased slightly during the past decade, perhaps as a result of increased evaporation in waters of Florida Bay and the Keys. This phenomenon is probably not caused by a decrease in the outflow of freshwater into Florida Bay from the Everglades but
may be related to the measured deficit in precipitation that has occurred over the past decade.
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