Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Benjamin P. Flower, Ph.D

Co-Major Professor

David J. Hollander, Ph.D.


Little Ice Age, Medieval Warm Period, Foraminifera, Climate change, Holocene


Accurate reconstruction of natural climate variability over the past millennium is critical for predicting responses to future climate change. In order to improve on current understanding of climate variability in the sub-tropical North Atlantic region over the past millennium, a rigorous study of Gulf of Mexico (GOM) sea surface temperature (SST) variability was conducted using both inorganic (foraminiferal Mg/Ca) and molecular organic (TEX86) geochemical proxies. In addition to generating multiple high-resolution climate records, the uncertainties of the SST proxies are rigorously assessed.

There are 3 major research questions addressed: (1) What was the magnitude of GOM SST variability during the past 1,000 years, particularly during large-scale climate events such as the Little Ice Age (LIA) and the Medieval Warm Period (MWP). (2) Is the SST signal reproducible within the same sediment core, among different northern GOM basins, and using different geochemical SST proxies? (3) What are the ecological controls on the paleothermometers used to reconstruct SST variability in the GOM? Can differences in the ecology (i.e. seasonal distribution, depth habitat, etc.) of distinct paleothermometers be exploited to gain insight into changes in upper water column structure or seasonality in the GOM during the LIA and MWP?

The major findings include: (1) The magnitude of temperature variability in the GOM over the past millennium is much larger than that estimated from Northern Hemisphere temperature reconstructions. The MWP (1400-900 yrs BP) was characterized by SSTs in the GOM that were similar to the modern SST, while the LIA (400-150 yrs BP) was marked by a series of multidecadal intervals that were 2-2.5°C cooler than modern. (2) This LIA cooling was replicated in the Mg/Ca-SST records from three different well-dated northern GOM basins (Pigmy, Garrison and Fisk Basins), as well as in two different geochemical proxies. (3) It is determined that foraminiferal test size has a significant effect on shell geochemistry. Using core-top calibration, discrepancies in the seasonal/depth habitats between different planktonic Foraminifera, and between Foraminifera and Crenarchaeota are inferred. Downcore differences are used to make inferences about changes in GOM mixed layer depth and seasonality over the past millennium.