Articles | Volume 14, issue 20
Research article
25 Oct 2017
Research article |  | 25 Oct 2017

Primary production sensitivity to phytoplankton light attenuation parameter increases with transient forcing

Karin F. Kvale and Katrin J. Meissner

Abstract. Treatment of the underwater light field in ocean biogeochemical models has been attracting increasing interest, with some models moving towards more complex parameterisations. We conduct a simple sensitivity study of a typical, highly simplified parameterisation. In our study, we vary the phytoplankton light attenuation parameter over a range constrained by data during both pre-industrial equilibrated and future climate scenario RCP8.5. In equilibrium, lower light attenuation parameters (weaker self-shading) shift net primary production (NPP) towards the high latitudes, while higher values of light attenuation (stronger shelf-shading) shift NPP towards the low latitudes. Climate forcing magnifies this relationship through changes in the distribution of nutrients both within and between ocean regions. Where and how NPP responds to climate forcing can determine the magnitude and sign of global NPP trends in this high CO2 future scenario. Ocean oxygen is particularly sensitive to parameter choice. Under higher CO2 concentrations, two simulations establish a strong biogeochemical feedback between the Southern Ocean and low-latitude Pacific that highlights the potential for regional teleconnection. Our simulations serve as a reminder that shifts in fundamental properties (e.g. light attenuation by phytoplankton) over deep time have the potential to alter global biogeochemistry.

Short summary
Climate models containing ocean biogeochemistry contain a lot of poorly constrained parameters, which makes model tuning difficult. For more than 20 years modellers have generally assumed phytoplankton light attenuation parameter value choice has an insignificant affect on model ocean primary production; thus, it is often overlooked for tuning. We show that an empirical range of light attenuation parameter values can affect primary production, with increasing sensitivity under climate change.
Final-revised paper