Articles | Volume 10, issue 6
Research article
28 Jun 2013
Research article |  | 28 Jun 2013

The impact of global warming on seasonality of ocean primary production

S. Henson, H. Cole, C. Beaulieu, and A. Yool

Abstract. The seasonal cycle (i.e. phenology) of oceanic primary production (PP) is expected to change in response to climate warming. Here, we use output from 6 global biogeochemical models to examine the response in the seasonal amplitude of PP and timing of peak PP to the IPCC AR5 warming scenario. We also investigate whether trends in PP phenology may be more rapidly detectable than trends in annual mean PP. The seasonal amplitude of PP decreases by an average of 1–2% per year by 2100 in most biomes, with the exception of the Arctic which sees an increase of ~1% per year. This is accompanied by an advance in the timing of peak PP by ~0.5–1 months by 2100 over much of the globe, and particularly pronounced in the Arctic. These changes are driven by an increase in seasonal amplitude of sea surface temperature (where the maxima get hotter faster than the minima) and a decrease in the seasonal amplitude of the mixed layer depth and surface nitrate concentration. Our results indicate a transformation of currently strongly seasonal (bloom forming) regions, typically found at high latitudes, into weakly seasonal (non-bloom) regions, characteristic of contemporary subtropical conditions. On average, 36 yr of data are needed to detect a climate-change-driven trend in the seasonal amplitude of PP, compared to 32 yr for mean annual PP. Monthly resolution model output is found to be inadequate for resolving phenological changes. We conclude that analysis of phytoplankton seasonality is not necessarily a shortcut to detecting climate change impacts on ocean productivity.

Final-revised paper