Climate change induced trends and uncertainties in phytoplankton spring bloom dynamics

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Spring phytoplankton blooms in the southern North Sea substantially contribute to annual primary production and largely influence food web dynamics. Studying long-term changes in spring bloom dynamics is therefore crucial for understanding future climate responses and predicting implications on the marine ecosystem. This paper aims to study long term changes in spring bloom dynamics in the Dutch coastal waters, using historical coastal in-situ data and satellite observations as well as projected future solar radiation and air temperature trajectories from regional climate models as driving forces covering the twenty-first century. The main objective is to derive long-term trends and quantify climate induced uncertainties in future coastal phytoplankton phenology. The three main methodological steps to achieve this goal include (1) developing a data fusion model to interlace coastal in-situ measurements and satellite chlorophyll-a observations into a single multi-decadal signal; (2) applying a Bayesian structural time series model to produce long-term projections of chlorophyll-a concentrations over the twenty-first century; and (3) developing a feature extraction method to derive the cardinal dates (beginning, peak, end) of the spring bloom to track the historical and the projected changes in its dynamics. The data fusion model produced an enhanced chlorophyll-a time series with improved accuracy by correcting the satellite observed signal with in-situ observations. The applied structural time series model proved to have sufficient goodness-of-fit to produce long term chlorophyll-a projections, and the feature extraction method was found to be robust in detecting cardinal dates when spring blooms were present. The main research findings indicate that at the study site location the spring bloom characteristics are impacted by the changing climatic conditions. Our results suggest that toward the end of the twenty-first century spring blooms will steadily shift earlier, resulting in longer spring bloom duration. Spring bloom magnitudes are also projected to increase with a 0.4% year−1 trend. Based on the ensemble simulation the largest uncertainty lies in the timing of the spring bloom beginning and-end timing, while the peak timing has less variation. Further studies would be required to link the findings of this paper and ecosystem behavior to better understand possible consequences to the ecosystem.