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Discussion papers | Copyright
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Review article 31 Aug 2018

Review article | 31 Aug 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Climate of the Past (CP).

The 4.2-ka event, ENSO, and coral-reef development

Lauren T. Toth1 and Richard B. Aronson2 Lauren T. Toth and Richard B. Aronson
  • 1U.S. Geological Survey, St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, St. Petersburg, FL, 33701, USA
  • 2Department of Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne FL, 32901, USA

Abstract. Variability of sea-surface temperature related to shifts in the mode of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has been implicated as a possible forcing mechanism for the changes in global-scale, tropical and subtropical precipitation known as the 4.2-ka event. We explore records of coral-reef development and paleoceanography from the tropical eastern Pacific (TEP) to evaluate the potential impact of the 4.2-ka event on coral reefs. Our goal is to identify the regional climatic and oceanographic drivers of a 2500-year shutdown of vertical reef accretion in the TEP beginning 4.2 ka. The 2500-year hiatus represents ~40% of the Holocene history of reefs in the TEP and was tied to increased variability of ENSO. When ENSO variability abated approximately 1.7–1.6 ka, coral populations recovered and vertical accretion of reef framework resumed apace. The 4.2-ka event appears to have suppressed coral populations and reef accretion elsewhere in the Pacific Ocean as well. Although the ultimate causality behind the global 4.2-ka event remains elusive, correlations between shifts in ENSO variability and the impacts of the 4.2-ka event suggest that ENSO played a role in climatic changes at that time, at least in the tropical and subtropical Pacific. We outline a framework for testing hypotheses of where and under what conditions ENSO may be expected to have impacted coral-reef environments around 4.2 ka. Although most studies of the 4.2-ka event have focused on terrestrial environments, we suggest that understanding the event in marine systems may prove to be the key to deciphering its ultimate cause.

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Lauren T. Toth and Richard B. Aronson
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Lauren T. Toth and Richard B. Aronson
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Short summary
We explore the hypothesis that a shift in global climate 4200 years ago (the 4.2-ka event), was related to the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). We summarize records of coral-reef development in the tropical eastern Pacific, where intensification of ENSO stalled reef growth for 2500 years starting around 4.2 ka. Because corals are highly sensitive to climatic changes, like ENSO, we suggest that records from coral reefs may provide important clues about the role of ENSO in the 4.2 ka event.
We explore the hypothesis that a shift in global climate 4200 years ago (the 4.2-ka event), was...