Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
Biogeosciences, 9, 97–117, 2012
Biogeosciences, 9, 97–117, 2012

Research article 06 Jan 2012

Research article | 06 Jan 2012

Oceanic controls on the primary production of the northwest European continental shelf: model experiments under recent past conditions and a potential future scenario

J. Holt1, M. Butenschön2, S. L. Wakelin1, Y. Artioli2, and J. I. Allen2 J. Holt et al.
  • 1National Oceanography Centre, 6 Brownlow Street, Liverpool, L3 5DA, UK
  • 2Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Prospect Place, The Hoe, Plymouth, PL1 3DH, UK

Abstract. In this paper we clearly demonstrate that changes in oceanic nutrients are a first order factor in determining changes in the primary production of the northwest European continental shelf on time scales of 5–10 yr. We present a series of coupled hydrodynamic ecosystem modelling simulations, using the POLCOMS-ERSEM system. These are forced by both reanalysis data and a single example of a coupled ocean-atmosphere general circulation model (OA-GCM) representative of possible conditions in 2080–2100 under an SRES A1B emissions scenario, along with the corresponding present day control. The OA-GCM forced simulations show a substantial reduction in surface nutrients in the open-ocean regions of the model domain, comparing future and present day time-slices. This arises from a large increase in oceanic stratification. Tracer transport experiments identify a substantial fraction of on-shelf water originates from the open-ocean region to the south of the domain, where this increase is largest, and indeed the on-shelf nutrient and primary production are reduced as this water is transported on-shelf. This relationship is confirmed quantitatively by comparing changes in winter nitrate with total annual nitrate uptake. The reduction in primary production by the reduced nutrient transport is mitigated by on-shelf processes relating to temperature, stratification (length of growing season) and recycling. Regions less exposed to ocean-shelf exchange in this model (Celtic Sea, Irish Sea, English Channel, and Southern North Sea) show a modest increase in primary production (of 5–10%) compared with a decrease of 0–20% in the outer shelf, Central and Northern North Sea. These findings are backed up by a boundary condition perturbation experiment and a simple mixing model.

Final-revised paper