Overland, J. E., J. Alheit, A. Bakun, J. W. Hurrell, D. L. Mackus and A. J. Miller, 2010:
Climate controls on marine ecosystems and fish populations.
Journal of Marine Systems, 79, 305-315.
This paper discusses large-scale climate variability for several marine ecosystems and
suggests types of ecosystem responses to climate change. Our analysis of observations
and model results for the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans concludes that most climate
variability is accounted for by the combination of intermittent 1-2 year duration events,
e.g. the cumulative effect of monthly weather anomalies or the more organized El
Nino/La Nina, plus broad-band "red noise" intrinsic variability operating at decadal and
longer timescales. While ocean processes such as heat storage and lags due to ocean
circulation provide some multi-year memory to the climate system, basic understanding
of the mechanisms resulting in observed large decadal variability is lacking and forces
the adoption of a "stochastic or red noise" conceptual model of low frequency variability
at the present time. Thus we conclude that decadal events with rapid shifts and major
departures from climatic means will occur, but their timing cannot be forecast.
The responses to climate by biological systems are diverse in character because
intervening processes introduce a variety of amplifications, time lags, feedbacks, and
non-linearities. Decadal ecosystem variability can involve a variety of climate to
ecosystem transfer functions. These can be expected to convert red noise of the physical
system to redder (lower frequency) noise of the biological response, but can also convert
climatic red noise to more abrupt and discontinuous biological shifts, transient climatic
disturbance to prolonged ecosystem recovery, and perhaps transient disturbance to
sustained ecosystem regimes. All of these ecosystem response characteristics are likely to
be active for at least some locations and time periods, leading to a mix of slow
fluctuations, prolonged trends, and step-like changes in ecosystems and fish populations
in response to climate change.
Climate variables such as temperatures and winds can have strong teleconnections (large
spatial covariability) within individual ocean basins, but between-basin teleconnections,
and potential climate-driven biological synchrony over several decades, are usually much
weaker and a highly intermittent function of the conditions prevailing at the time within
the adjoining basins.
As noted in the recent IPCC 4th Assessment Report, a warming trend of ocean surface
layers and loss of regional sea ice is likely before 2030, due to addition of greenhouse
gases. Combined with large continuing natural climate variability, this will stress
ecosystems in ways that they have not encountered for at least 100s of years.