Scaling Global Warming Impacts on Ocean Ecosystems: Lessons From a Suite of Earth System Models
An important technique used by climate modelers to isolate the impacts of increasing greenhouse gasses on Earth System processes is to simulate the impact of an abrupt increase in carbon dioxide. The spatial pattern of change provides a “fingerprint” that is generally much larger than natural variability. Insofar as the response to radiative forcing is linear (the impact of quadrupling CO2 is twice the impact of doubling CO2) this fingerprint can then be used to estimate the impact of historical greenhouse gas forcing. However, the degree to which biogeochemical cycles respond linearly to radiative forcing has rarely been tested. In this paper, we evaluate which ocean biogeochemical fields are likely to respond linearly to changing radiative forcing, which ones do not, and where linearity breaks down. We also demonstrate that the representation of lateral mixing by mesoscale eddies, which varies significantly across climate models, plays an important role in modulating the breakdown of linearity. Globally integrated surface rates of biogeochemical cycling (primary productivity, particulate export) respond in a relatively linear fashion and are only moderately sensitive to mixing. By contrast, the habitability of the interior ocean (as determined by hypoxia and calcite supersaturation) behaves non-linearly and is very sensitive to mixing. This is because the deep ocean, as well as certain regions in the surface ocean, are very sensitive to the magnitude of deep wintertime convection. The cessation of convection under global warming is strongly modulated by the representation of eddy mixing.