Undergraduate Honors Theses


Combining X-Ray Fluorescence and Age Models of Coral Calcification Rates to Determine the Environmental Factors Correlating to Trace Materials in Coral Skeletons

Thesis Defended

Summer 2018

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Atreyee Bhattacharya

Second Advisor

Dale Miller

Third Advisor

Heidi Souder


Caribbean coral reefs are among the most threatened marine ecosystems in the world. Prior research, based on measurements of land-derived materials substituted in calcium carbonate that makes up the coral skeleton, demonstrate that intensification of local environmental stressors, such as sediment run off, can reduce the resilience of Mesoamerican coral reefs to global threats, such as warming ocean temperature in response to anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases. Material trapped in coral skeletons can also provide additional information on the sources of particulate matter in the ocean system as well as to resilience of corals. Despite the importance of quantifying sources and types of materials trapped in corals, the environmental factors that affect variations in trapped material incorporation into the coral skeleton remains unclear. The dataset presented here is a progression of two works presented at American Geophysical Union 2016 Fall Meeting. In this research, we explore the efficacy of X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF), a widely used tool in marine, environmental, geological and climatological studies, to correlate detrital metal content in coral cores collected from four locations near Belize to climate processes including variations in El Nino climate patterns, global and local seawater temperature anomalies, precipitation rates and human impact data in Belize. Through data analysis of data sets across time, we aim to identify the source and environmental stimulants that facilitate trace material uptake in the coral skeleton.

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