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Study Tour

Study Tour - Barbados

The study tour this year will to the Caribbean island of Barbados, a classic field area for Quaternary sea level study.  Barbados is an actively rising island at the crest of the Barbados Ridge, an accretionary prism of the Lesser Antilles forearc.  Strongly folded Eocene sedimentary rocks are capped by a sequence of Quaternary coral terraces that grew during sea level changes over the
last 700,000 years or so.
A large fraction of what is known today about the rates and magnitudes of Quaternary sea level change comes from studies of the uplifted reef tracts of Barbados and cores recovered from the drowned deglacial coral reefs offshore.  The first strong support for the Milankovitch theory of climate change came from the dating of the Last Interglacial terrace; locally know as First High Cliff.  This date was key to establishing a timescale for the oxygen isotope record that remains our primary way of establising a stratigraphy and a timescale for all ocean cores.

We will spend much of our time looking at sections through the uplifted reefs, examining in some detail the stratigraphy of the terrace sequences, and discussing the development of ideas about terrace formation on an uplifting island during the 100 m sea level cycles of the Quaternary.  We will talk about the difficulties of reconstructing sea level change from the rock record and look first hand at the evidence of sea level change.  We will also have a look at the modern reef, either by snorkeling or submarine, and take a visit to Harrison’s Cave to have a look at what’s going on under the surface of the terraces.  We will spend a day or two examining at the folded Eocene sediments of the accretionary prism that underlie the coral cap.

Participation on the Study Tour

Topics and Readings for the field trip 

Topics 4, 7, 8, 9, and 10 are still available.  Of these 9 and 10 are probably the most important, and could each be done by a team of 2 people, because there are several papers to summarize.  Everyone
should read the overview by Schellmann & Radtke, then pick one topic to read and talk about in the field.

Please inform Bill Thompson of your topic.

  1. Karin Lemkau:  Sea level and global climate change (Broecker et al. 1968)
  2. All: Barbados overview (Schellmann and Radtke 2004)
  3. Camilo Ponton: Geologic Setting (Westbrook 1982) (no pdf; see Bill T for hard copy)
  4. Li Ling Hamady and Michael Toomey: Accretionary prism (Speed 1983)
  5. Holly Moeller: Coral Zonation (Goreau 1959; Hughes 1994)
  6. Andrea Burke: Fossil reef stratigraphy (Mesolella 1967; Blanchon et al. 1997)
  7. Constructional versus erosional terraces (Speed et al. 2002 unpublished manuscript)
  8. Samantha Nakata: University of West Indies (Cave Hill) overview (Speed and Cheng
  9. Fern Gibbons: Termination II (Kerr 1992; Winograd et al. 1992; Henderson and Slowey 2000; Gallup et al. 2002; Freiburger et al. 2005)
  10. Caroline Martin and David Case: Last Interglacial (Hearty et al. 2007; Thompson and Curran 2007; Blanchon et al. 2009)
  11. Michael Krawczynski: U-series dating (Thompson et al. 2003; Scholz and Mangini 2007; Andersen et al. 2009)
  12. Evelyn Mervine: Dating older terraces (Bender et al. 1973; Bender et al. 1979)
  13. Andersen, M. B., Gallup, C. D., Scholz, D., Stirling, C. H. and Thompson, W. G. (2009). "U-series dating of fossil coral reefs: consensus and controversy." PAGES news 17(2): 54-56.

All readings are available on the couse reading list at:

Bender, M. L., Fairbanks, R. G., Taylor, F. W., Matthews, R. K., Goddard, J. G. and Broecker, W. S. (1979). "Uranium-series dating of Pleistocene reef tracts of Barbados, West Indies." GSA Bull. 90: 577-594.

Bender, M. L., Taylor, F. T. and Matthews, R. K. (1973). "Helium-uranium dating of corals from middle Pleistocene Barbados reef tracts." Quat. Res. 3: 142-146.

Blanchon, P., Eisenhauer, A., Fietzke, J. and Liebetrau, V. (2009). "Rapid sea-level rise and reef back-stepping at the close of the last interglacial highstand." Nature(458): 881-884.

Blanchon, P., Jones, B. and Kalbfleisch, W. (1997). "Anatomy of a fringing reef around Grand Cayman: storm rubble, not coral framework." Journal of Sedimentary Research 67(1): 1-16.

Broecker, W. S., Thurber, D. L., Goddard, J. G., Ku, T. L., Matthews, R. K. and Mesolella, K. J.
(1968). "Milankovitch hypothesis supported by precise dating of coral reefs and deep-sea sediments." Science 159: 297-300.

Freiburger, N. C., Gallup, C. D., Taylor, F. W., Cheng, H. and Edwards, R. L. (2005). "New dates and revelations on the last interglacial terrace, Barbados, West Indies." EOS Transactions American
Geophysical Union
86(52): Suppl., Abstract PP21C-1578.

Gallup, C. D., Cheng, H., Taylor, F. W. and Edwards, R. L. (2002). "Direct determination of the timing of sea level change during Termination II." Science 295: 310-313.

Goreau, T. F. (1959). "The ecology of Jamaican coral reefs I. Species composition and zonation." Ecology 40(1): 67-90.

Hearty, P. J., Hollin, J. T., Neumann, A. C., O'Leary, M. and McColloch, M. (2007). "Global sea-level fluctuations during the Last Interglaciation (MIS5e)." Quaternary Science Reviews 26: 2090-2112.

Henderson, G. M. and Slowey, N. C. (2000). "Evidence from U-Th dating against Northern Hemisphere forcing of the penultimate deglaciation." Nature 404: 61-66.

Hughes, T. P. (1994). "Catastrophes, phase shifts, and large-scale degradation of a Caribbean coral reef." Science 265: 1547-1551.

Kerr, R. A. (1992). "A revisionist timetable for the ice ages." Science 258: 220-221.

Mesolella, K. J. (1967). "Zonation of uplifted Pleistocene coral reefs on Barbados, West
Indies." Science 156: 638-640.

Schellmann, G. and Radtke, U. (2004). "A revised morpho- and chronostratigraphy of the
Late and Middle Pleistocene coral reef terraces on Southern Barbados (West Indies)." Earth-Science Reviews 64(3-4): 157-187.

Scholz, D. and Mangini, A. (2007). U-redistribution in fossil reef corals from Barbados, West
Indies, and sea-level reconstruction for MIS 6.5. Developments in Quaternary Science. F. Sirocko, M. Claussen, M. F. Sanchez-Goni and T. Litt. 7: 119-139.

Speed, R., Thompson, W. G., Fairbanks, R. G., Rubenstone, J. L. and Mortlock, R. A. (2002
unpublished manuscript). Marine terrace evolution in southeastern Barbados and
the Stage 5c highstand.

Speed, R. C. (1983). "Structure of the accretionary complex of Barbados I: Chalky
Mount." GSA Bull. 84(1): 92-116.

Speed, R. C. and Cheng, H. (2004). "Evolution of marine terraces and sea level in the last
interglacial, Cave Hill, Barbados." GSA Bulletin 116(1/2): 219-232.

Thompson, W. G. and Curran, H. A. (2007). "Climate instability during the last interglacial: abrupt sea level events."

Thompson, W. G., Spiegelman, M. W., Goldstein, S. L. and Speed, R. C. (2003). "An
Open-System model for the U-series age determinations of fossil corals." Earth and Planetary Science Letters 210: 365-381.

Westbrook, G. K. (1982). The Barbados ridge complex: Tectonic of a mature forearc system. Geological Society of London Special Publication. J. K. Leggett. London, Blackwell.

Winograd, I. J., Coplen, T. B., Landwehr, J. M., Riggs, A. C., Ludwig, K. R., Szabo, B. J.,
Kolesar, P. T. and Revesz, K. M. (1992). "Continuous 500,000-year climate
record from vein calcite in Devils Hole, Nevada." Science 258: 255-284.

Study Tour Participants (pdf)

2009 Student Projects


Geodynamics supervisors and potential projects

Anne Cohen ( Paleoclimate records in corals

Delia Oppo ( Determining the late deglacial/Holocene history of upwelling in Indonesia region of western Pacific warm pool and its relationship to hypotheses about changes in the strength of Asian monsoons and the latitude of the intertropical convergence zones.

Dan McCorkle ( Bioturbation modeling

Brian Tucholke ( Morphology and sedimentary processes in Hydrographer submarine canyon, New England continental slope (Data: Multibeam bathymetry and backscatter amplitude; plus incorporation of any archived 3.5/12 kHz profiles, seismic profiles, and seafloor samples that may be available).

Bill Curry ( Sea surface temperature proxy calibration using Ocean Flux Program sediment trap samples.  A data analysis project using new stable isotope data for G. ruber and real-time measurements of seawater temperature and salinity.

Bill Curry ( evaluation of changes in sedimentation and deep water circulation at Bermuda Rise during the last 160,000 years.  A data analysis project using new stable isotope data for planktonic/benthic foraminifera and new high-resolution elemental measurements from the scanning XRF.  This project uses the KNR191 long piston cores from Bermuda Rise.

Joan Bernhard (, Dan McCorkle ( Ocean acidification has recently been shown to affect the weight of planktic foraminiferal tests (shells; Moy et al. 2009 Nature Geosciences).  An ongoing project is assessing the survival of benthic foraminifera to decreased pH resultant from predicted oceanic pCO2 increases over the next ~200 years.  One aspect of that project is to document the effect of these 6-week experimental treatments on calcareous foraminiferal test microstructure and weight.  Samples (controls and two [CO2] treatments, multiple species) are ready to be weighed with a microanalytical balance and then imaged with Scanning Electron Microscopy.  The student will also be expected to statistically analyze the data.

Bill Thompson ( Determining diagenetically-induced variability in U/Th ages using sub-samples of large individual corals.