DOI: 10.1525/elementa.2023.00111 ISSN: 2325-1026

The phenology of the spring phytoplankton bloom in the North Atlantic does not trend with temperature

Kevin D. Friedland, Jens M. Nielsen, Nicholas R. Record, Damian C. Brady, Clay J. Morrow
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Geology
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Oceanography

Climate change is anticipated to alter the phenology of phytoplankton blooms in the ocean, making their recent dynamics of interest to inform models of future ocean states. We characterized temperature change in the North Atlantic using metrics that track the patterns of sea surface water temperature (SST) defined by quantiles. To complement these thermal indicators, we estimated a thermal phenology index in the form of the date of the spring transition, taken as the date that temperature achieved the long-term mean at a specific location. We then used ocean color data (1998–2022) and characterized spring bloom phenology using change point methods to derive bloom initiation, duration, magnitude, and intensity. The North Atlantic has warmed over recent decades, averaging a rate of increase of 0.27°C decade−1, yet throughout most of the basin, spring transition timing has remained constant, with the exception of small areas with either delayed or advanced transitions. There were no clear trends in bloom start or duration in the North Atlantic, indicating that spring bloom phenology was independent of climate-driven temperature change. Bloom magnitude and intensity trended downward in some North Atlantic continental shelf seas, indicating that increased temperatures may have had negative effects on overall bloom productivity. However, exclusive of the areas where the bloom parameters were trending, there was a decrease in magnitude and intensity with warmer winter temperatures, suggesting that the inter-annual variability of these parameters may be affected by thermal conditions at the onset of the bloom. While temperature has increased in the North Atlantic, vernal light availability has remained unchanged, which may explain why spring bloom phenology has remained resistant to climate change. Consequently, it seems plausible that future climate change may have limited effects on spring bloom phenology, but could have substantial effects on overall phytoplankton production.

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