Climate warming and interannual variability of phytoplankton phenology in the Northern Red Sea
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AbstractIn agreement with global patterns of climate change and increasing temperatures in the tropical oceans, the Northern Red Sea (NRS) has been warming over the last few decades. Using 18 years of remotely-sensed chlorophyll-a data (Chl-a, an index of phytoplankton biomass), we investigate the potential impacts of climate warming on phytoplankton abundance and phenology in the Northern Red Sea by exploring the mechanistic links with the regional physical environment. The results of the analysis reveal that, in accordance with other tropical ecosystems, phytoplankton biomass in the NRS will decrease in response to warmer climate scenarios. This is attributed to lower heat fluxes (heat loss to the atmosphere) during the bloom period, and enhanced vertical stratification, which prevents vertical mixing of nutrients into the euphotic layer. In addition, we show that during warmer conditions (when heat fluxes are weakened), the winter bloom initiates significantly later (by up to 10 weeks) and its duration is considerably reduced. The biological implications of alterations to phytoplankton phenology may include increased larval mortality of pelagic species, reduced recruitment, fisheries impacts and changes to community structure.