Weather and Climate

Researchers at WERI are involved in a cooperative project with the University of Hawaii and the Pacific Basin Development Council (PBDC) to study the effects of a climatic condition called El Niño on the weather of our part of the Western Pacific.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has provided funding to form an ENSO (El niño Southern Oscillation) applications center to do these studies. Part of the function of the Applications enter is to provide information to island water managers, emergency management specialists and others with information on ENSO and its affects on the weather in our region. The emphasis of the impact on our part of the Pacific is on drought and typhoon numbers and intensities.

Climate History Program

Why cave studies?

One the most productive sources of long-term pre-historic climate data is speleothems, i.e., calcite mineral deposits precipitated from cave dripwater. With current techniques, stalagmites (which develop distinct and datable layers, like tree rings, as they accumulate on the floors of caves) can reveal datable changes in chemical parameters that can be resolved at intervals ranging from seasons to millennia and spanning decades to hundreds of millennia. Changes in the amount or sources of rainfall, and sometimes even in above-ground temperature, can be inferred from the chemical clues and changes in rate of growth, especially if the relationship is known between the chemistry of modern calcite layers and the dripwater from which they precipitate. Fortunately, WERI researchers working over the past decade (Mylroie et al., 2001; Taboroši, 2004; Taboroši et al., 2004) have identified and mapped a number of accessible caves on Guam that contain promising stalagmite records from which the pre-historical climate record of Guam might thus be reconstructed. 

What have we learned so far?

The caves in the Mariana Islands are products of complex speleogenetic processes that include successive episodes of limestone deposition and dissolution associated with tectonic uplift and subsidence, as well as eustatic sea level changes.

From a stalagmite previously collected on northern Guam, we have already measured stable oxygen isotope ratios and trace elements (Mg/Ca and Sr/Ca) and determined a chronology from 12 high-precision TIMS U/Th dates (Sinclair et al., 2008). The geochemical record spans 28,000 years, providing a time-series of changing hydrology and climate in the equatorial Pacific bracketing the Last Glacial Maximum through the present. Patterns in the geochemical parameters are consistent with those found in several other Pacific speleothems (from Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands), suggesting a large hydrological change in the Western Pacific during the Early-to-Mid Holocene, about 5,000-9,000 years before present. However, additional records are needed as the current archive is inadequate to completely describe the change. Additional insights gained from this and related ongoing collaborative projects will enable us to continue this line of research to determine more recent as well as longer-term climate patterns with higher resolution. 

Why is this important locally?

Data on dripwater rates and chemistry help improve the reliability of our interpretations of the chemical clues found in the cave deposits.

At its September 12, 2008 meeting, the Guam Water Resources Advisory Council identified as one of its research priorities “expanding and updating the rainfall database for Guam,” to include long-term rainfall variability (Item 16, under Water Quantity Issues, Guam´s Critical Water Resources Research, Education And Training Needs). Unfortunately, the long-term historical record for Guam begins only at the end of World War II. Moreover, as current research on climate dynamics around the world reveals, regional climates everywhere are characterized by decadal, centennial, and even millennial scale oscillations. Even the oldest historical records-which date at best from the early Eighteenth Century-are too short to document such long-term cycles. It is becoming increasingly important for economic planners and managers, however, to be able to anticipate or understand the likely duration and severity, if not the causes, of long-term or persistent shifts in weather and climate patterns. Of particular interest in the west Pacific Ocean region are the patterns of flooding/drought, prevailing winds, and the frequency and severity of major storms, which are already known to follow cycles of decadal and longer duration. To characterize long-term rainfall and temperature patterns prior to the historical record, however, requires making estimates of them from proxies such as the stalagmite record that we are studying in this project. 

Broader Implications of This Work: Regional and Global Climate Dynamics

This project dovetails with other ongoing efforts determine the history of the West Pacific Warm Pool (WPWP) from specimens in Borneo, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu (Partin et al., 2007). The WPWP is believed to be of central importance to global atmospheric and oceanic redistribution of heat (Webster and Lukas, 1992). Unfortunately, however, the history of oceanic provinces is especially difficult to reconstruct since fossil evidence, such as cave deposits, is not preserved as it is in continental environments. The speleothems found in the caves of the small carbonate islands of the west Pacific Ocean, however, provide a unique and valuable resource for reconstruction of the climate history of this centrally important oceanic region of the Earth. The record from the Mariana Islands is of particular interest, since the archipelago brackets the northern margin of the WPWP, where it experiences a strong (wet-dry) seasonal signal (unlike provinces nearer to the equator). Moreover, since the Mariana Islands straddle the boundary, island caves can record how the WPWP expands, contracts, or shifts over time, whereas caves in more central locations, see little or no change over time. The Mariana Islands are also located where Pacific ENSO events produce strong and long-lasting droughts, which may be discernable in the speleothem record. A detailed understanding of the cave environment from which the speleothems have been extracted is thus of great value because it will enhance the reliability of data and inferences that may be made for a crucial part of the Earth´s climate engine. 

Getting a More Detailed Understanding of the Caves

Rainfall measurements and sampling of modern rainwater provide additional data for more reliable interpretations of the climate clues found in cave deposits.

WERI researchers are now seeking additional funding, which would support graduate thesis research in the University of Guam´s Environmental Science Program, to document the evolution of selected caves on Guam that are sources of climatic data for Guam in particular and the West Pacific region in general. Specifically, we hope to discern the sequence of events and conditions, including not only their relative timing but eventually their absolute ages as well, that produced each cave and the speleothems deposited in it (cf., Partin et al., 2008). Events and conditions on which the investigation will focus include the original environment and characteristics of the wall rock in which the cave formed and the onset of dissolution that initiated the development of the cave. We will also attempt to discern the subsequent history of uplift, subsidence, or eustatic relative sea-level fluctuations that emptied or flooded the cave with phreatic groundwater, as well as structural modifications, perhaps associated with seismic events, that shifted the relative positions of elements within the cave. Care will be taken to identify speleogenetic markers such as the onset and cessation of speleothem deposition or dissolution, and the emplacement of breakdown deposits within the cave. The detailed understanding of the cave history thus obtained will enable a more reliable assessment of the conditions under which the different deposits formed, as well as accurate inference of the environmental conditions of the island itself. This, in turn, will provide important insights and constraints by which more reliable interpretation can be made from the chemical parameters and patterns revealed by laboratory analyses on cave stalagmites. For example, we will be better able to determine whether a given shift in a chemical parameter in a cave stalagmite reflects a shift in the climate external to the cave rather than some change in the internal environment of the cave. It will also provide a basis for more systematic and efficient selection of future specimens for laboratory study, which will help lead researchers to the most informative specimens and minimize cost by preventing redundancies and duplications of studies of similar specimens. We will eventually also be able to correlate events noted in various caves to determine whether events are unique to a given cave or reflect island-wide or broader, regional changes in conditions. 

  • Mylroie, J. E., J. W. Jenson, D. Taboroši, J. M. U. Jocson, D. T. Vann, and C. Wexel, 2001, Karst features on Guam in terms of a general model of carbonate island karst: Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, v. 63, p. 9-22.
  • Partin, J. W., K. M. Cobb, J. F. Adkins, B. Clark, and D. P. Fernandez, 2007, Millennial-scale trends in west Pacific warm pool hydrology since the Last Glacial Maximum: Nature, v. 449, p. 445-456.
  • Partin, J. W., K. M. Cobb, and J. L. Banner, 2008, Climate variability recorded in tropical and sub-tropical speleothems: PAGES News, v. 16, p. 9-1.
  • Sinclair, D. J., J. L. Banner, F. W. Taylor, T. M. Quinn, J. W. Jenson, and J. E. Mylroie, 2008, Deglacial climate dynamics in the western Pacific Ocean measured in a stalagmite from Guam, Goldschmidt Conference, Vancouver, B.C.
  • Taboroši, D., 2004, Field Guide to the Caves and Karst of Guam: Honolulu, Bess Press, 105 p.
  • Taboroši, D., J. W. Jenson, and J. E. Mylroie, 2004, Karst features of Guam, Mariana Islands, Mangilao, Water & Environmental Research Institute of the Western Pacific, University of Guam, p. 26.
  • Webster, P. J., and R. Lukas, 1992, TOGA COARE – The coupled ocean-atmosphere response experiment: Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, v. 73, p. 1377-1416.

Constitutive Modeling of Glacial Till

Interdisciplinary study of the potential role of subglacial sediment in ice sheet movement.
J.W. Jenson
Water & Environmental Research Institute of the Western Pacific, University of Guam
C.S. Desai
Department of Civil Engineering & Engineering & Engineering Mechanics, University of Arizona
A.E. Carlson
Department of Geosciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison
P.U. Clark
Department of Geosciences, Oregon State University


Exposure of glacial till layers in bluffs above the Nelson River, northern Manitoba, from which specimens of the Sky Pilot Till, deposited by the Laurentide Ice Sheet, were obtained. 

We have recently completed a set of geotechnical experiments (Sane et al., 2008) using the Disturbed State Concept (DSC) model (Desai, 2001) to evaluate the rheology of two regionally significant North American Pleistocene tills (Carlson et al., 2004). The results suggest that soft beds could, at certain stages of deformation–assuming sufficiently strong coupling at the ice-till interface–support shear stresses of about 20 kPa, substantially greater than the residual strengths measured in other tills by Kamb (1991) and Iverson et al (1997; Iverson et al., 1998) (<3 kPa). Having thus developed the DSC model for the fully-coupled case (in which there is assumed to be no “sliding” or “slippage” between the basal ice and the underlying bed of “soft” (i.e., water-saturated) till, the research team proposes now to extend the application of the DSC model to the mechanics of relative motion at the interface between the basal ice and underlying till. The proposed work will utilize the specialized Cyclic Multi-Degree-of-Freedom (CYMDOF) shear device at the University of Arizona´s Constitutive Modeling Laboratory, which has been developed and proven in previous advanced geotechnical research applications. The CYMDOF test box will be modified to accommodate ice-till interface specimens with controlled configurations guided by insights gained from continued field study by the research team and from previous observations published by others. The model will be validated by independent tests and then implemented in numerical simulations to predict the motion resulting from the combined effects of interface motion and deformation in the till and ice. The proposed work will take advantage of previously proven methodology and the mathematical and numerical models developed and tested in the previous project.

Applications of Research

Ice sheet modelers have long sought a reliable model for soft-bedded ice sheet movement. Despite the important role of slip in ice movement,however, no truly predictive models have yet been developed for slip of ice over a till surface. The results of this project will be an important contribution toward the ultimate development of sophisticated ice sheet models that could provide reliable predictions of growth, decay, and stability of glaciers and ice sheets–both Pleistocene and modern–and their interaction with climate. Such models may also yield new insights into landscape evolution in glacial terrains, such as whether soft-bed deformation could have mobilized sufficient sediment flux to account for the large volumes of till in the Midwestern United States or the large deposits of glacigenic material in the Barents Sea. Answers to such questions have applications to important economic activities in glaciated regions, including water resource management and mineral prospecting and mining.

  • Carlson, A. E., J. W. Jenson, and P. U. Clark, 2004, Field observations from the Tiskilwa Till, IL, and Sky Pilot Till, MB of the Laurentide Ice Sheet: Geographie Physique et Quaternaire, v. 58, p. 229-239.
  • Desai, C. S., 2001, Mechanics of Materials and Interfaces: The Disturbed State Concept: Boca Raton, Florida, CRC Press.
  • Iverson, N. R., R. W. Baker, and T.S. Hooyer, 1997, A ring shear device for the study of till deformation: Tests on tills with contrasting clay contents: Quaternary Science Reviews, v. 16, p. 1057-1066.
  • Iverson, N. R., T. S. Hooyer, and R. W. Baker, 1998, Ring-shear studies of till deformation: Coulomb-plastic behavior and distributed strain in glacier beds: Journal of Glaciology, v. 44, p. 634-642.
  • Kamb, B., 1991, Rheological nonlinearity and flow instability in the deforming bed mechanism of ice stream motion: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 96, p. 585-16,595.
  • Sane, S. M., C. S. Desai, J. W. Jenson, D. S. Contractor, A. E. Carlson, and P. U. Clark, 2008, Disturbed state constitutive modeling of two Pleistocene tills: Quaternary Science Reviews, v. 27, p. 267-283.