Harp seals are the most abundant marine mammal in the north Atlantic. As an ice obligatory predator, they reflect changes in their environment, particularly during a period of climatic change. As the focus of a commercial hunt, a large historic data set exists that can be used to quantify changes. There are three populations of harp seals: White Sea/Barents Sea, Greenland Sea and Northwest Atlantic. The objective of this paper is to review their current status and to identify the factors that are influencing population dynamics in different areas. Although important historically, recent catches have been low and do not appear to be influencing trends in either of the two northeast Atlantic populations. Massive mortalities of White Sea/Barents Sea seals occurred during the mid 1980s due to collapses in their main prey species. Between 2004 and 2006, pup production in this population declined by 2/3 and has remained low. Body condition declined during the same period, suggesting that ecosystem changes may have resulted in reduced reproductive rates, possibly due to reduced prey availability and/or competition with Atlantic cod. The most recent estimate of pup production in the Greenland Sea also suggests a possible decline during a period of reduced hunting although the trend in this population is unclear. Pupping concentrations are closer to the Greenland coast due to the reduction in ice in the traditional area and increased drift may result in young being displaced from their traditional feeding grounds leading to increased mortality. Reduced ice extent and thickness has resulted in major mortality of young in the Northwest Atlantic population in some years. After a period of increase, the population remained relatively stable between 1996 and 2013 due to increased hunting, multiple years with increased ice-related mortality of young seals, and lower reproductive rates. With a reduction in harvest and improved survival of young, the population appears to be increasing although extremely large interannual variations in body condition and fecundity have been observed which were found to be influenced by variations in capelin biomass and ice conditions. Each of these populations has been impacted differently by changes in their ecosystems and hunting practices. By identifying the factors influencing these three populations, we can gain a better understanding of how species may respond to changes that are occurring in their ecosystems.
Climate Change, Ocean Acidification, and Ocean Warming
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.
Ocean acidification is a threat to the net growth of tropical and deep-sea coral reefs, due to gradual changes in the balance between reef growth and loss processes. Here we go beyond identification of coral dissolution induced by ocean acidification and identify a mechanism that will lead to a loss of habitat in cold-water coral reef habitats on an ecosystem-scale. To quantify this, we present in situ and year-long laboratory evidence detailing the type of habitat shift that can be expected (in situ evidence), the mechanisms underlying this (in situ and laboratory evidence), and the timescale within which the process begins (laboratory evidence). Through application of engineering principals, we detail how increased porosity in structurally critical sections of coral framework will lead to crumbling of load-bearing material, and a potential collapse and loss of complexity of the larger habitat. Importantly, in situ evidence highlights that cold-water corals can survive beneath the aragonite saturation horizon, but in a fundamentally different way to what is currently considered a biogenic cold-water coral reef, with a loss of the majority of reef habitat. The shift from a habitat with high 3-dimensional complexity provided by both live and dead coral framework, to a habitat restricted primarily to live coral colonies with lower 3-dimensional complexity represents the main threat to cold-water coral reefs of the future and the biodiversity they support. Ocean acidification can cause ecosystem-scale habitat loss for the majority of cold-water coral reefs.
In 2015, the Pacific marine heat wave, low river flows, and record high water temperatures in the Columbia River Basin contributed to a near-complete failure of the adult migration of endangered Snake River sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka, NOAA Fisheries 2016). These extreme weather events may become the new normal due to anthropogenic climate change, with catastrophic consequences for endangered species. Existing anthropogenic pressures may amplify vulnerability to climate change, but these potential synergies have rarely been quantified. We examined factors affecting survival of endangered sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka) and threatened Chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha) as they migrated upstream through eight dams and reservoirs to spawning areas in the Snake River Basin. Our extensive database included histories of 17,279 individual fish that migrated since 2004. A comparison between conditions in 2015 and daily temperatures and flows in a regulated basin forced by output from global climate models showed that 2015 did have many characteristics of projected future mean conditions. To evaluate potential salmon responses, we modeled migration timing and apparent survival under historical and future climate scenarios (2040s). For Chinook salmon, adult survival from the first dam encountered to spawning grounds dropped by 4-15%, depending on the climate scenario. For sockeye, survival dropped by ~80% from their already low levels. Through sensitivity analyses, we observed that the adult sockeye migration would need to shift more than 2 weeks earlier than predicted to maintain survival rates typical of those seen during 2008-2017. Overall, the greater impacts of climate change on adult sockeye compared with adult Chinook salmon reflected differences in life history and environmental sensitivities, which were compounded for sockeye by larger effect sizes from other anthropogenic factors. Compared with Chinook, sockeye was more negatively affected by a history of juvenile transportation and by similar temperatures and flows. The largest changes in temperature and flow were projected to be upstream from the hydrosystem, where direct mitigation through hydrosystem management is not an option. Unfortunately, Snake River sockeye have likely lost much of their adaptive capacity with the loss of the wild population. Further work exploring habitat restoration or additional mitigation actions is urgently needed.
Climate change is impacting coral reefs now. Recent pan-tropical bleaching events driven by unprecedented global heat waves have shifted the playing field for coral reef management and policy. While best-practice conventional management remains essential, it may no longer be enough to sustain coral reefs under continued climate change. Nor will climate change mitigation be sufficient on its own. Committed warming and projected reef decline means solutions must involve a portfolio of mitigation, best-practice conventional management and coordinated restoration and adaptation measures involving new and perhaps radical interventions, including local and regional cooling and shading, assisted coral evolution, assisted gene flow, and measures to support and enhance coral recruitment. We propose that proactive research and development to expand the reef management toolbox fast but safely, combined with expedient trialling of promising interventions is now urgently needed, whatever emissions trajectory the world follows. We discuss the challenges and opportunities of embracing new interventions in a race against time, including their risks and uncertainties. Ultimately, solutions to the climate challenge for coral reefs will require consideration of what society wants, what can be achieved technically and economically, and what opportunities we have for action in a rapidly closing window. Finding solutions that work for coral reefs and people will require exceptional levels of coordination of science, management and policy, and open engagement with society. It will also require compromise, because reefs will change under climate change despite our best interventions. We argue that being clear about society’s priorities, and understanding both the opportunities and risks that come with an expanded toolset, can help us make the most of a challenging situation. We offer a conceptual model to help reef managers frame decision problems and objectives, and to guide effective strategy choices in the face of complexity and uncertainty.
Global warming is considered to be the most severe threat to coral reefs globally, which makes it important for scientists to develop novel strategies that mitigate the impact of warming on corals and associated habitats. Artificial upwelling of cooler deep water to the surface layer may be a possible mitigation/management tool. In this study, we investigated the effect of simulated artificial upwelling with deep water off Bermuda collected at 50 m (24°C) and 100 m (20°C) on coral symbiont biology of 3 coral species (Montastrea cavernosa, Porites astreoides, and Pseudodiploria strigosa) in a temperature stress experiment. The following treatments were applied over a period of 3 weeks: (i) control at 28°C (ii) heat at 31°C, (iii) heat at 31°C+ deep water from 50 m depth, and (iv) heat at 31°C+ deep water from 100 m depth. Artificial upwelling was simulated over a period of 25 min on a daily basis resulting in a reduction of temperature for 2 h per day and the following degree-heating-weeks: 5.7°C-weeks for ii, 4.6°C-weeks for iii and 4.2°C-weeks for iv. Comparative analysis of photosynthetic rate, chlorophyll-a concentration and zooxanthellae density revealed a reduction of heat stress responses in artificial upwelling treatments in 2 of the 3 investigated species, and a stronger positive effect of 100-m water than 50-m water. These results indicate that artificial upwelling could be an effective strategy to mitigate coral bleaching during heat stress events allowing corals to adjust to increasing temperatures more gradually. It will still be necessary to further explore the ecological benefits as well as potential ecosystem impacts associated with different artificial upwelling scenarios to carefully implement an effective in situ artificial upwelling strategy in coral reefs.
In 2014–2016 an unprecedented warming event in the North Pacific Ocean triggered changes in ecosystem of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) impacting fisheries management. The marine heatwave was noteworthy in its geographical extent, depth range, and persistence, with evidence of shifts in species distribution and reduced productivity. In 2017 a groundfish survey indicated that GOA Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) had experienced a 71% decline in abundance from the previous 2015 survey. The GOA Pacific cod fishery supports a $103 million fishery which is 29% of the groundfish harvest value in the GOA. In this paper, we demonstrate that an increase in metabolic demand during this extended marine heatwave as well as a reduced prey supply can explain the decline in GOA Pacific cod biomass. Although increased mortality likely led to the decline in the Pacific cod population, historically low recruitment concurrent with the heatwave portends a slow recovery for the stock and gives a preview of impacts facing this region due to climate change. We evaluate the intersection of climate change with ecosystem-based fisheries management in the context of GOA Pacific cod with a description of the sensitivities of the ecosystem, how the changes in the ecosystem affected the Pacific cod stock, and a description of how the management system in the North Pacific handled this shock. We also provide suggestions on how fisheries management systems could be improved to better contend with the impacts of climate change such as the effects of heatwaves like that experienced in 2014–2016.
Climate change in the Southern Hemisphere has exerted impact on the primary production in the Southern Ocean (SO). Using a recently released reanalysis dataset on global biogeochemistry, a comprehensive analysis was conducted on the complex biogeochemical seasonal cycle and the impact of climate change with a focus in areas within the meridional excursion of the sea ice boundary—coastal and continental shelf zone (CCSZ) and seasonal sea ice zone (SIZ). The seasonal cycles of primary production and related nutrients are closely linked with the seasonal changes in sea ice and sea surface temperatures. As sea ice retreats and allows energy and gas exchange across the sea surface, phytoplankton growth is initiated, consuming accumulated nutrients within the shallow depth of ~40 m. The seasonal evolutions of physical, biological and chemical variables show both spatial and temporal consistency with each other. Climate change has altered the timing and amplitude of the seasonal cycle. While primary production has generally increased along with an intensified uptake of CO2, some areas show a reduction in production (e.g., Prydz Bay, eastern Indian Ocean). In the CCSZ, increased iron utilization and light availability allowed production to be increased. However, the mechanism by which these factors are altered varies from one location to another, including changes in sea ice cover, surface stratification, and downwelling/upwelling. In the SIZ, where iron is generally a limiting factor, iron supply is a key driver of changes in primary production regardless of other nutrients. There is a clear influence of climatic change on the biogeochemical cycle although the signal is still weak.
Under warming climates, heat waves (HWs) have occurred in increasing intensity in Europe. Also, public interest towards HWs has considerably increased over the last decades. The paper discusses the manifestations of the summer 2014 HW and simultaneously occurring coastal upwelling (CU) events in the Gulf of Finland. Caused by an anticyclonic weather pattern and persisting easterly winds, CUs evolved along the southern coast of the Gulf in four episodes from June to August. Based on data from coastal weather stations, 115 days-long measurements with a Recording Doppler Current Profiler (RDCP) oceanographic complex and sea surface temperature (SST) satellite images, the partly opposing impacts of these events are analysed. Occurring on the background of a marine HW (up to 26°C), the CU-forced SST variations reached about 20 degrees. At the 10 m deep RDCP mooring location, a drop from 21.5 to 2.9°C occurred within 60 hours. Salinity varied between 3.6 and 6.2 and an alongshore coastal jet was observed; the statistically preferred westerly current frequently flowed against the wind. Locally, the cooling effect of the CUs occasionally mitigated the overheating effects by the HWs both in the sea and on the marine-land boundary. However, in the elongated channel-like Gulf of Finland, upwelling at one coast is usually paired with downwelling at the opposite coast, and simultaneously or subsequently occurring HWs and CUs effectively contribute to heat transfer from the atmosphere to the water mass. Rising extremes of HWs and rapid variations by CUs may put the ecosystems under increasing stress.
Nitrogen fixation is a major source of new nitrogen to the ocean, supporting biological productivity in the large nitrogen-limited tropical oceans. In Earth System Models, the response of nitrogen fixation to climate change acts in concert with projected changes to physical nitrogen supply to regulate the response of primary productivity in nitrogen-limited regions. We examine the response of diazotrophy from nine Earth System Models and find large variability in the magnitude and spatial pattern of nitrogen fixation in both contemporary periods and future projections. Although Earth System Models tend to agree that nitrogen fixation will decrease over the next century, strong regional variations exist, especially in the tropical Pacific which may counteract the response of the Atlantic and Indian oceans. As the climate driven trend of nitrogen fixation emerges by mid-century in the RCP8.5 scenario, on regional scales it may modulate the broad climate trends in productivity that emerge later in the century. The generally poor skill and lack of agreement amongst Earth System Models indicates that the climate response of nitrogen fixation is a key uncertainty in projections of future ocean primary production in the tropical oceans. Overall, we find that the future evolution of nitrogen fixation plays an important role in shaping future trends in net primary production in the tropics, but the poor skill of models highlights significant uncertainty, especially considering the role of multiple concurrent drivers.