Phytoplankton respond directly to climate forcing, and due to their central role in global oxygen production and atmospheric carbon sequestration, they are critical components of the Earth’s climate system. There are however few observations detailing past variability in marine primary productivity, particularly over multi-decadal to centennial timescales. This limits our understanding of the long-term impact of climatic forcing on both past and future marine productivity.Authors of a new study published in Nature used a high-resolution signal of marine biogenic aerosol emissions (methanesulfonic acid, or “MSA”) preserved within twelve Greenland ice cores to reconstruct a ~250-year record of marine productivity variations across the subarctic Atlantic basin, one of the most biologically productive and climatically sensitive regions on Earth. These results provide the most continuous proxy-based reconstruction of basin-scale productivity to date in this region, illuminating the following major findings: (1) subarctic Atlantic marine productivity has declined over the industrial era by as much as 10 ± 7%; (2) the early 19th century onset of declining productivity coincides with the regional onset of industrial-era surface warming, and also strongly covaries with regional sea surface temperatures and basin-scale gyre circulation strength; (3) there is strong decadal- to centennial-scale coherence between northern Atlantic productivity variability and declining Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) strength, as predicted by prior model-based studies.
Future atmospheric warming is predicted to contribute to accelerating Greenland Ice Sheet runoff, ocean-surface freshening, and AMOC slowdown, suggesting the potential for continued declines in productivity across this dynamic and climatically important region. Such declines will, in turn, have important implications for future maritime economies, global food security, and drawdown of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Matthew Osman (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Sarah Das (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Luke Trusel (Rowan University)
Matthew Evans (Wheaton College)
Hubertus Fischer (University of Bern)
Mackenzie Griemann (University of California, Irvine)
Sepp Kipfstuhl (Alfred-Wegener-Institute)
Joseph McConnell (Desert Research Institute)
Eric Saltzman (University of California, Irvine)
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