The response of a climate proxy against measured temperature, rainfall and atmospheric circulation patterns at sub-annual resolution is the ultimate test of proxy fidelity but very few data exist showing the level of correspondence between speleothem climate proxies and the instrumental climate record. Cave sites on the Gibraltar peninsula provide a unique opportunity to calibrate speleothem climate proxies with the longest known available precipitation isotopes and instrumental records. An actively growing speleothem sampled from New St. Michaels Cave in 2004 is composed of paired laminae consisting of light columnar calcite and a darker microsparitic calcite. Stable isotope analysis of samples micromilled in 100 μm steps at the equivalent of bi-monthly intervals reveals fabric-correlated annual cycles in carbon isotopes, oxygen isotopes and trace elements responding to seasonal changes in cave microclimate, hydrology and ventilation patterns. Calcite δ¹³C values reach a minimum in the light columnar fabric and evidence from trace element behaviour and cave monitoring indicates that this grows under cave ‘winter’ conditions of highest pCO₂, whereas the dark microsparitic calcite, characterised by elevated δ¹³C and δ¹⁸O values grows under low ‘summer’ pCO₂ conditions. Drip water δ¹³CDIC reaches a minimum in March–April, at which time the attenuated δ¹⁸O signal becomes most representative of winter precipitation. An age model based on cycle counting and the position of the ¹⁴C bomb carbon spike yields a precisely dated winter oxygen isotope proxy of cave seepage water for comparison with the GNIP and instrumental climate record for Gibraltar. The δ¹⁸O characteristics of calcite deposited from drip water representing winter precipitation for each year can be derived from the seasonally resolved record and allows reconstruction of the δ¹⁸O drip water representing winter precipitation for each year from 1951–2004. These data show an encouraging level of correspondence (r² = 0.47) with the δ¹⁸O of rainfall falling each year between October and March and on a decadal scale the δ¹⁸O of reconstructed winter drip water mirrors secular change in mean winter temperatures.
Earth and Planetary Science Letters Vol. 269, Issue 1-2, p. 80-95