Decadal changes in climate and ecosystems in the North Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas

Beaugrand, G 2009 Decadal changes in climate and ecosystems in the North Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography, 56 (8-10). 656-673.

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Climate change is unambiguous and its effects are clearly detected in all functional units of the Earth system. This study presents new analyses of sea-surface temperature changes and show that climate change is affecting ecosystems of the North Atlantic. Changes are seen from phytoplankton to zooplankton to fish and are modifying the dominance of species and the structure, the diversity and the functioning of marine ecosystems. Changes also range from phenological to biogeographical shifts and have involved in some regions of the Atlantic abrupt ecosystem shifts. These alterations reflect a response of pelagic ecosystems to a warmer temperature regime. Mechanisms are complex because they are nonlinear exhibiting tipping points and varying in space and time. Sensitivity of organisms to temperature changes is high, implicating that a small temperature modification can have sustained ecosystem effects. Implications of these changes for biogeochemical cycles are discussed. Two observed changes detected in the North Sea that could have opposite effects on carbon cycle are discussed. Increase in phytoplankton, as inferred from the phytoplankton colour index derived from the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey, has been detected in the North Sea. This pattern has been accompanied by a reduction in the abundance of the herbivorous species Calanus finmarchicus. This might have reduced the grazing pressure and increase diatomaceous ‘fluff’, therefore carbon export in the North Sea. Therefore, it could be argued that the biological carbon pump might increase in this region with sea warming. In the meantime, however, the mean size of organisms (calanoid copepods) has dropped. Such changes have implications for the turnover time of biogenic carbon in plankton organisms and the mean residence time of particulate carbon they produce. The system characterising the warmer period is more based on recycling and less on export. The increase in the minimum turnover time indicates an increase in the ecosystem metabolism, which can be considered as a response of the pelagic ecosystems to climate warming. This phenomenon could reduce carbon export. These two opposite patterns of change are examples of the diversity of mechanisms and pathways the ecosystems may exhibit with climate change. Oversimplification of current biogeochemical models, often due to lack of data and biological understanding, could lead to wrong projection on the direction ecosystems and therefore some biogeochemical cycles might take in a warmer world.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Depositing User: Miss Gemma Brice
Date made live: 26 Mar 2014 14:09
Last Modified: 06 Mar 2017 17:56

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