Predicting the behavior of ocean ecology in a changing climate: from simple theory to global climate models

Irina Marinov (June 29, 2011)

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Climate driven changes to the physical structure of the ocean will modify oceanic temperature, light, and nutrients, essential ingredients for the growth of ocean phytoplankton. In turn, resulting changes in phytoplankton growth and community structure will affect export production, deep ocean carbon storage, and ultimately atmospheric carbon.
The questions I work on at present are: How will changes in temperature, light and nutrients affect phytoplankton growth rates and biomass and will they impact more the small phytoplankton or the large phytoplankton? What will be the resulting consequences for biological production and the carbon cycling in the ocean?
I propose from theoretical arguments a " critical nutrient hypothesis " , i.e. that in the low nutrient regions roughly corresponding to 40S 40N, future nutrient decreases due to increasing stratification will affect more small phytoplankton biomass than diatoms, with consequences for export production and the carbon cycle. I expect the opposite behavior in the high nutrient high latitudes, with future nutrient decreases affecting more diatoms than small phytoplankton. More broadly, I propose an analytical framework linking changes in nutrients, light and temperature with changes in phytoplankton biomass and assess these theoretical considerations against coupled model projections (1980-2100) from one of the leading US IPCC-class Earth System models, the NCAR CCSM3.1.