Inshore massive corals often display bright luminescent lines that have been linked to river flood plumes into coastal catchments and hence have the potential to provide a long-term record of hinterland precipitation. Coral luminescence is thought to result from the incorporation of soil-derived humic acids transported to the reef during major flood events. Corals far from terrestrial sources generally only exhibit dull relatively broad luminescence bands, which are attributed to seasonal changes in coral density. We therefore tested the hypothesis that spectral ratios rather than conventional luminescence intensity provide a quantitative proxy record of river runoff without the confounding effects of seasonal density changes. For this purpose, we have developed a new, rapid spectral luminescence scanning (SLS) technique that splits emission intensities into red, green and blue domains (RGB) for entire cores with an unprecedented linear resolution of 71.4 mu m. Since humic acids have longer emission wavelength than the coral aragonite, normalisation of spectral emissions should yield a sensitive optical humic acid/aragonite ratio for humic acid runoff, i.e., G/B ratio. Indeed, G/B ratios rather than intensities are well correlated with Ba/Ca, a geochemical coral proxy for sediment runoff, and with rainfall data, as exemplified for coral records from Madagascar. Coral cores also display recent declining trends in luminescence intensity, which are also reported in corals elsewhere. Such trends appear to be associated with a modern decline in skeletal densities. By contrast, G/B spectral ratios not only mark the impact of individual cyclones but also imply that humic acid runoff increased in Madagascar over the past few decades while coral skeletal densities decreased. Consequently, the SLS technique deconvolves the long-term interplay between humic acid incorporation and coral density that have confounded earlier attempts to use luminescence intensities as a proxy for river runoff.