Coastal environmental and atmospheric data reduction in the Southern North Sea supporting ecological impact studies

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Coastal climate impact studies make increasing use of multi-source and multi-dimensional atmospheric and environmental datasets to investigate relationships between climate signals and the ecological response. The large quantity of numerically simulated data may, however, include redundancy, multi-colinearity and excess information not relevant to the studied processes. In such cases techniques for feature extraction and identification of latent processes prove useful. Using dimensionality reduction techniques this research provides a statistical underpinning of variable selection to study the impacts of atmospheric processes on coastal chlorophyll-a concentrations, taking the Dutch Wadden Sea as case study. Dimension reduction techniques are applied to environmental data simulated by the Delft3D coastal water quality model, the HIRLAM numerical weather prediction model and the Euro-CORDEX climate modelling experiment. The dimension reduction techniques were selected for their ability to incorporate (1) spatial correlation via multi-way methods (2), temporal correlation through Dynamic Factor Analysis, and (3) functional variability using Functional Data Analysis. The data reduction potential and explanatory value of these methods are showcased and important atmospheric variables affecting the chlorophyll-a concentration are identified. Our results indicate room for dimensionality reduction in the atmospheric variables (2 principle components can explain the majority of variance instead of 7 variables), in the chlorophyll-a time series at different locations (two characteristic patterns can describe the 10 locations), and in the climate projection scenarios of solar radiation and air temperature variables (a single principle component function explains 77% of the variation for solar radiation and 57% of the variation for air temperature). It was also found that solar radiation followed by air temperature are the most important atmospheric variables related to coastal chlorophyll-a concentration, noting that regional differences exist, for instance the importance of air temperature is greater in the Eastern Dutch Wadden Sea at Dantziggat than in the Western Dutch Wadden Sea at Marsdiep Noord. Common trends and different regional system characteristics have also been identified through dynamic factor analysis between the deeper channels and the shallower intertidal zones, where the onset of spring blooms occurs earlier. The functional analysis of climate data showed clusters of atmospheric variables with similar functional features. Moreover, functional components of Euro-CORDEX climate scenarios have been identified for radiation and temperature variables, which provide information on the dominant mode (pattern) of variation and its uncertainties. The findings suggest that radiation and temperature projections of different Euro-CORDEX scenarios share similar characteristics and mainly differ in their amplitudes and seasonal patterns, offering opportunities to construct statistical models that do not assume independence between climate scenarios but instead borrow information (“borrow strength”) from the larger pool of climate scenarios. The presented results were used in follow up studies to construct a Bayesian stochastic generator to complement existing Euro-CORDEX climate change scenarios and to quantify climate change induced trends and uncertainties in phytoplankton spring bloom dynamics in the Dutch Wadden Sea.