Vertical water mass mixing and plankton blooms recorded in skeletal stable carbon isotopes of a Red Sea coral

Thomas Felis*, Jürgen Pätzold, Yossi Loya, Gerold Wefer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The environmental interpretation of the 13C/12C variations in the skeletons of massive corals is still a matter of debate. A 19-year seasonal skeletal 13C/12C record of a shallow-water Porites coral from the northern Red Sea (Gulf of Aqaba) documents interannual events of extraordinarily large plankton blooms, indicated by anomalous 13C depletions in the coral skeleton. These blooms are caused by deep vertical water mass mixing, convectively driven in colder winters, which results in increased supplies of nutrients to the surface waters. The deep vertical mixings can sometimes be driven by the cooling occurring throughout the Middle East after large tropical volcanic eruptions. We therefore have evidence in our coral skeletal 13C/12C record for an indirect volcanic signal of the eruptions of El Chichón (1982) and Mount Pinatubo (1991). Deep mixing induced 13C/12C variations of the dissolved inorganic carbon in the surface waters can be neglected at this location. We therefore suggest that the 13C skeletal depletions can be best explained by changes in the coral's autotrophy-heterotrophy diet, through increased heterotrophic feeding on zooplankton during the blooms. Increased feeding on 13C-depleted zooplankton or increased heterotrophy at the expense of autotrophy can both result in a 13C-depleted coral skeleton. However, this suggestion requires more testing. If our conclusions are substantiated, seasonal skeletal 13C/12C records of corals which change from autotrophy under normal conditions to increased heterotrophy during bloom events may be used as indicators of ocean paleoproductivity at interannual resolution, available from no other source.

Original languageEnglish
Article number98JC02711
Pages (from-to)30731-30739
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue numberC13
StatePublished - 15 Dec 1998


Dive into the research topics of 'Vertical water mass mixing and plankton blooms recorded in skeletal stable carbon isotopes of a Red Sea coral'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this