Potential impacts of climate change on the primary production of regional seas: A comparative analysis of five European seas


Regional seas are potentially highly vulnerable to climate change, yet are the most directly societally important regions of the marine environment. The combination of widely varying conditions of mixing, forcing, geography (coastline and bathymetry) and exposure to the open-ocean makes these seas subject to a wide range of physical processes that mediates how large scale climate change impacts on these seas’ ecosystems. In this paper we explore the response of five regional sea areas to potential future climate change, acting via atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial vectors. These include the Barents Sea, Black Sea, Baltic Sea, North Sea, Celtic Seas, and are contrasted with a region of the Northeast Atlantic. Our aim is to elucidate the controlling dynamical processes and how these vary between and within these seas. We focus on primary production and consider the potential climatic impacts on: long term changes in elemental budgets, seasonal and mesoscale processes that control phytoplankton’s exposure to light and nutrients, and briefly direct temperature response. We draw examples from the MEECE FP7 project and five regional model systems each using a common global Earth System Model as forcing. We consider a common analysis approach, and additional sensitivity experiments. Comparing projections for the end of the 21st century with mean present day conditions, these simulations generally show an increase in seasonal and permanent stratification (where present). However, the first order (low- and mid-latitude) effect in the open ocean projections of increased permanent stratification leading to reduced nutrient levels, and so to reduced primary production, is largely absent, except in the NE Atlantic. Even in the two highly stratified, deep water seas we consider (Black and Baltic Seas) the increase in stratification is not seen as a first order control on primary production. Instead, results show a highly heterogeneous picture of positive and negative change arising from complex combinations of multiple physical drivers, including changes in mixing, circulation and temperature, which act both locally and non-locally through advection.
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