Carbonate ramps are gently sloping depositional surfaces where shallow-water, coarse-grained facies pass basinward into fine-grained, deep-water sediments, with no abrupt change in slope. The objectives of this study are: (i) to integrate the depositional processes recorded in the Pleistocene stratigraphy of the west Florida outer ramp into a palaeoclimatic and palaeoceanographic framework for the eastern Gulf of Mexico; and (ii) to examine the origin of mineralogical and sedimentary cycles in the light of pteropod and planktonic foraminiferal populations corresponding to climatic oscillations.

Aragonitic, pteropod-rich sediments with large amounts of insoluble residue occur in sediments deposited during glacial intervals; sandy calcitic sediments with abundant planktonic foraminifera accumulate during interglacials. These cycles reflect variations in biological productivity of pelagic pteropods and planktonic foraminifera, rather than preferential dissolution of either aragonitic or calcitic fractions. Species assemblages suggest that the productivity cycles are linked to changes in upwelling intensity at the margins of the Loop Current and variations in water mass salinities, as well as terrigenous dilution from the Mississippi Delta. These cycles are the response to Pleistocene glacial-interglacial oscillations, controlled by Milankovitch orbital parameters.

Although the organisms contributing to deep-water carbonate environments have changed through geological time, facies patterns, as well as sedimentary textures and structures, identified in the west Florida sediments provide criteria for recognition of ancient ramps. An understanding of the processes on a modern ramp slope, such as west Florida, may prove valuable in palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental analysis of epicontinental carbonate sequences and ramps in the rock record.