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Trends in Ocean Colour and Chlorophyll Concentration from 1889 to 2000, Worldwide

June 28, 2013

Marine primary productivity is an important agent in the global cycling of carbon dioxide, a major ‘greenhouse gas’, and variations in the concentration of the ocean’s phytoplankton biomass can therefore explain trends in the global carbon budget. Since the launch of satellite-mounted sensors globe-wide monitoring of chlorophyll, a phytoplankton biomass proxy, became feasible. Just as satellites, the Forel-Ule (FU) scale record (a hardly explored database of ocean colour) has covered all seas and oceans – but already since 1889. We provide evidence that changes of ocean surface chlorophyll can be reconstructed with confidence from this record. The EcoLight radiative transfer numerical model indicates that the FU index is closely related to chlorophyll concentrations in open ocean regions. The most complete FU record is that of the North Atlantic in terms of coverage over space and in time; this dataset has been used to test the validity of colour changes that can be translated to chlorophyll. The FU and FU-derived chlorophyll data were analysed for monotonously increasing or decreasing trends with the non-parametric Mann-Kendall test, a method to establish the presence of a consistent trend. Our analysis has not revealed a globe-wide trend of increase or decrease in chlorophyll concentration during the past century; ocean regions have apparently responded differentially to changes in meteorological, hydrological and biological conditions at the surface, including potential long-term trends related to global warming. Since 1889, chlorophyll concentrations have decreased in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific; increased in the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean, the Chinese Sea, and in the seas west and north-west of Japan. This suggests that explanations of chlorophyll changes over long periods should focus on hydrographical and biological characteristics typical of single ocean regions, not on those of ‘the’ ocean.

Wernard M R, van der Woerd H J, Gieskes W W C, 2013, Trends in Ocean Colour and Chlorophyll Concentration from 1889 to 2000, Worldwid, PLoS ONE 8(6): e63766, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063766. Article.


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