Articles | Volume 7, issue 11
Research article
11 Nov 2010
Research article |  | 11 Nov 2010

Control of primary production in the Arctic by nutrients and light: insights from a high resolution ocean general circulation model

E. E. Popova, A. Yool, A. C. Coward, Y. K. Aksenov, S. G. Alderson, B. A. de Cuevas, and T. R. Anderson

Abstract. Until recently, the Arctic Basin was generally considered to be a low productivity area and was afforded little attention in global- or even basin-scale ecosystem modelling studies. Due to anthropogenic climate change however, the sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean is undergoing an unexpectedly fast retreat, exposing increasingly large areas of the basin to sunlight. As indicated by existing Arctic phenomena such as ice-edge blooms, this decline in sea-ice is liable to encourage pronounced growth of phytoplankton in summer and poses pressing questions concerning the future of Arctic ecosystems. It thus provides a strong impetus to modelling of this region.

The Arctic Ocean is an area where plankton productivity is heavily influenced by physical factors. As these factors are strongly responding to climate change, we analyse here the results from simulations of the 1/4° resolution global ocean NEMO (Nucleus for European Modelling of the Ocean) model coupled with the MEDUSA (Model for Ecosystem Dynamics, carbon Utilisation, Sequestration and Acidification) biogeochemical model, with a particular focus on the Arctic basin. Simulated productivity is consistent with the limited observations for the Arctic, with significant production occurring both under the sea-ice and at the thermocline, locations that are difficult to sample in the field.

Results also indicate that a substantial fraction of the variability in Arctic primary production can be explained by two key physical factors: (i) the maximum penetration of winter mixing, which determines the amount of nutrients available for summer primary production, and (ii) short-wave radiation at the ocean surface, which controls the magnitude of phytoplankton blooms. A strong empirical correlation was found in the model output between primary production and these two factors, highlighting the importance of physical processes in the Arctic Ocean.

Final-revised paper