Professor Richard G. Fairbanks

Columbia University | Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory | Earth and Environmental Sciences | Google Earth
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Radiocarbon Cal | Reservoir Age | ENSO | Sea Level | Isotope Tracers | Coral Biochem | Deep Water Circulation | Planktonic Foram Ecology | SSTs
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Current Research

Water Isotope Tracer Studies


Oxygen isotopes measurements of foraminifera skeletons are the backbone of the field of paleoceanography by variously providing a relative time scale for deep sea cores, a proxy for sea level, and a measure of paleotemperatures. Central to our use of this proxy is an understanding of the natural distribution of oxygen isotopes and their fractionation in the hydrologic cycle and in their distribution in the world's oceans. We have measured the oxygen isotope chemistry of waters throughout the world and published more seawater analyses than any other laboratory. While our initial interest in this topic began in the field of paleoceanography, we have utilized oxygen and hydrogen isotopes of the seawater molecule, combined with other ocean conservative tracers such as salinity, to decipher the processes of deep-water formation in the polar regions. Another major application of our isotope tracer laboratory is the field of coastal oceanography, where complex mixing and advection of seasonally changing source waters commonly occur. In the tropical Pacific, we have recently ventured into studies of large scale moisture cycling using the oxygen and hydrogen tracers in precipitation and surface ocean waters. In our coral and foraminifera culture laboratory, oxygen isotope tracers offer a convenient, sensitive and rapid calcification measure. Some of our successes can be attributed to our automated mass spectrometer inlet system design (MultiPrep) that produces the most precise oxygen isotope measurements obtainable in a completely automated mode. Measurement precision of this system is limited to the mass spectrometer performance and is not limited by the MultiPrep sample preparation and introduction system. Somewhat at odds with the ice core community, we have argued for some time that the primary oxygen isotope signal recorded in Greenland ice cores is changing air mass mixing and not air temperature, although the two correlate. Greenland is unique from a meteorological standpoint; it marks the confluence of numerous air mass trajectories containing very different oxygen isotope compositions. Changes in the proportions of these various air masses on a seasonal basis can explain most of the regional and millennial variability. In particular, Greenland oxygen isotope chemistry is very responsive to the flip-flop from meridional climate to zonal climate patterns that the North Atlantic region regularly experiences during the late Pleistocene. In a series of papers, including several GCM simulations, we have presented this perspective.


  • [PDF] Schlosser, P., R. Newton, B. Ekwurzel, S. Khatiwala, R. Mortlock, and R. Fairbanks, 2002. Decrease of river runoff in the upper waters of the Eurasian Basin, Arctic Ocean, between 1991 and 1996: evidence from δ18O data. Geophysical Res. Letters, 29, 9, 1289 .
  • [PDF] Houghton R.W. and R.G. Fairbanks, 2001. Water sources for Georges Bank. Deep-Sea Res. II, vol. 48, no.1-3, 95-114.
  • [PDF] Smith P.C, R.W. Houghton and R.G. Fairbanks. 2001. Interannual variability of boundary fluxes and water mass properties in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank:1993-1997; Deep-Sea Res. II, vol. 48, no. 1-3, 37-70.
  • [PDF] Ekwurzel, B., P. Schlosser, J.H. Swift, R.A. Mortlock, and R.G. Fairbanks, 2001. River runoff, sea ice meltwater, and Pacific distribution and mean residence times in the Arctic Ocean. Jour. Geophy. Res., vol. 106, no. C5, 9075-9092.
  • [PDF] Khatiwala, S., R.G. Fairbanks, R.W. Houghton, 1999. Freshwater sources to the coastal ocean off northeastern North America: Evidence from H218O/H216O. J. Geophysical Res., 104, 18241-18255.
  • Weppernig, R., P.Schlosser, S. Khatiwala and R.G. Fairbanks, 1996. Isotope data from Ice Station Wedell: Implications for deep water formation in the western Weddell Sea. J. Geophy. Res. 101, C11. 25705-25722.
  • [PDF] Bauch, D., P. Schlosser and R. G. Fairbanks.1995. Freshwater balance and the sources of deep and bottom waters in the Arctic Ocean inferred from the distribution of H218O. Progress in Oceanography, 35, 1, 53-80.
  • [PDF]Charles, C.D., D. Rind, J. Jouzel, R.D. Koster and R.G. Fairbanks, 1995. Seasonal precipitation timing and ice core records, Science, 269, 247-248. (Technical comment)
  • Charles, C.D., D. Rind, J. Jouzel, R.D. Koster and R.G. Fairbanks, 1994. Variable air mass sources for Greenland; influences on the ice core record. Science, 263, 508-511.
  • Schlosser, P., D. Grabitz, R.G. Fairbanks and G. Bonisch, 1994. Arctic river-runoff: mean residence time on the shelves and in the halocline. Deep-Sea Research, 1053-1068.
  • Cole, J. E., D. Rind, and R. G. Fairbanks, 1994: Isotopic responses to interannual climate variability simulated by the GISS GCM. Quaternary Science Reviews, 12, 387-406.
  • Chapman, D.C., J.A. Barth, R.C. Beardsley and R.G. Fairbanks, 1986. On the continuity of mean flow between the Scotian Shelf and the Middle Atlantic Bight. J. Phys. Oceanog., 16, 759-772.
  • Jacobs, S.S., R.G. Fairbanks and Y. Horibe, 1985. Origin and evolution of water masses near the Antarctic continental margin: evidence from O-18/O-16 ratios in seawater. in: Oceanology of the Antarctic Continental Shelf (S. Jacobs, ed.) Antarctic Research Series, American Geophy. Union, Washington, D.C., V43, p59-85.
  • Fairbanks, R.G. 1983. Isotopic origins of Georges Bank water. Nat. Mar. Fish.-Woods Hole, Spec. Publ. (NOAA). 67pp.
  • Fairbanks, R.G., 1982. The origin of continental shelf and slope water in the New York Bight and Gulf of Maine; evidence from oxygen isotope ratio measurements. J. Geophy. Res., 87 (C8), 5796-5808.
  • Fairbanks, R.G., 1981. Isotope measurements identify sources of Middle Atlantic Bight water masses. Coastal Oceanog. and Climatol., 3 (4), 6-7.
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