Articles | Volume 10, issue 6
Research article
20 Jun 2013
Research article |  | 20 Jun 2013

Increasing cloudiness in Arctic damps the increase in phytoplankton primary production due to sea ice receding

S. Bélanger, M. Babin, and J.-É. Tremblay

Abstract. The Arctic Ocean and its marginal seas are among the marine regions most affected by climate change. Here we present the results of a diagnostic model used to assess the primary production (PP) trends over the 1998–2010 period at pan-Arctic, regional and local (i.e. 9.28 km resolution) scales. Photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) above and below the sea surface was estimated using precomputed look-up tables of spectral irradiance, taking as input satellite-derived cloud optical thickness and cloud fraction parameters from the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) and sea ice concentration from passive microwaves data. A spectrally resolved PP model, designed for optically complex waters, was then used to assess the PP trends at high spatial resolution. Results show that PP is rising at a rate of +2.8 TgC yr−1 (or +14% decade−1) in the circum-Arctic and +5.1 TgC yr−1 when sub-Arctic seas are considered. In contrast, incident PAR above the sea surface (PAR(0+)) has significantly decreased over the whole Arctic and sub-Arctic Seas, except over the perennially sea-ice covered waters of the Central Arctic Ocean. This fading of PAR(0+) (−8% decade−1) was caused by increasing cloudiness during summer. Meanwhile, PAR penetrating the ocean (PAR(0−)) increased only along the sea ice margin over the large Arctic continental shelf where sea ice concentration declined sharply since 1998. Overall, PAR(0−) slightly increased in the circum-Arctic (+3.4% decade−1), while it decreased when considering both Arctic and sub-Arctic Seas (−3% decade−1). We showed that rising phytoplankton biomass (i.e. chlorophyll a) normalized by the diffuse attenuation of photosynthetically usable radiation (PUR), accounted for a larger proportion of the rise in PP than did the increase in light availability due to sea-ice loss in several sectors, and particularly in perennially and seasonally open waters. Against a general backdrop of rising productivity over Arctic shelves, significant negative PP trends and the timing of phytoplankton spring-summer bloom were observed in regions known for their great biological importance such as the coastal polynyas of northern Greenland.

Final-revised paper