Articles | Volume 13, issue 4
Research article
23 Feb 2016
Research article |  | 23 Feb 2016

Changing seasonality of the Baltic Sea

Mati Kahru, Ragnar Elmgren, and Oleg P. Savchuk

Abstract. Changes in the phenology of physical and ecological variables associated with climate change are likely to have significant effect on many aspects of the Baltic ecosystem. We apply a set of phenological indicators to multiple environmental variables measured by satellite sensors for 17–36 years to detect possible changes in the seasonality in the Baltic Sea environment. We detect significant temporal changes, such as earlier start of the summer season and prolongation of the productive season, in several variables ranging from basic physical drivers to ecological status indicators. While increasing trends in the absolute values of variables like sea-surface temperature (SST), diffuse attenuation of light (Ked490) and satellite-detected chlorophyll concentration (CHL) are detectable, the corresponding changes in their seasonal cycles are more dramatic. For example, the cumulative sum of 30 000 W m−2 of surface incoming shortwave irradiance (SIS) was reached 23 days earlier in 2014 compared to the beginning of the time series in 1983. The period of the year with SST of at least 17 °C has almost doubled (from 29 days in 1982 to 56 days in 2014), and the period with Ked490 over 0.4 m−1 has increased from about 60 days in 1998 to 240 days in 2013 – i.e., quadrupled. The period with satellite-estimated CHL of at least 3 mg m−3 has doubled from approximately 110 days in 1998 to 220 days in 2013. While the timing of both the phytoplankton spring and summer blooms have advanced, the annual CHL maximum that in the 1980s corresponded to the spring diatom bloom in May has now shifted to the summer cyanobacteria bloom in July.

Short summary
Using satellite-derived data sets we have found drastic changes in the timing of the annual cycle in physical and ecological variables of the Baltic Sea over the last 30 years. The summer season starts earlier and extends longer. The period with sea-surface temperature of at least 17 ˚C has doubled; the period with high water turbidity has quadrupled. While both the phytoplankton spring and summer blooms have become earlier, the annual maximum has switched to the summer cyanobacteria bloom.
Final-revised paper