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Article

The warming of the global climate is expected to continue in the 21st century, although the magnitude of change depends on future anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and the sensitivity of climate to them. The regional characteristics and impacts of future climate change in the Baltic Sea countries have been explored since at least the 1990s. Later research has supported many findings from the early studies, but advances in understanding and improved modeling tools have made the picture gradually more comprehensive and more detailed. Nevertheless, many uncertainties still remain. In the Baltic Sea region, warming is likely to exceed its global average, particularly in winter and in the northern parts of the area. The warming will be accompanied by a general increase in winter precipitation, but in summer, precipitation may either increase or decrease, with a larger chance of drying in the southern than in the northern parts of the region. Despite the increase in winter precipitation, the amount of snow is generally expected to decrease, as a smaller fraction of the precipitation falls as snow and midwinter snowmelt episodes become more common. Changes in windiness are very uncertain, although most projections suggest a slight increase in average wind speed over the Baltic Sea. Climatic extremes are also projected to change, but some of the changes will differ from the corresponding change in mean climate. For example, the lowest winter temperatures are expected to warm even more than the winter mean temperature, and short-term summer precipitation extremes are likely to become more severe, even in the areas where the mean summer precipitation does not increase. The projected atmospheric changes will be accompanied by an increase in Baltic Sea water temperature, reduced ice cover, and, according to most studies, reduced salinity due to increased precipitation and river runoff. The seasonal cycle of runoff will be modified by changes in precipitation and earlier snowmelt. Global-scale sea level rise also will affect the Baltic Sea, but will be counteracted by glacial isostatic adjustment. According to most projections, in the northern parts of the Baltic Sea, the latter will still dominate, leading to a continued, although decelerated, decrease in relative sea level. The changes in the physical environment and climate will have a number of environmental impacts on, for example, atmospheric chemistry, freshwater and marine biogeochemistry, ecosystems, and coastal erosion. However, future environmental change in the region will be affected by several interrelated factors. Climate change is only one of them, and in many cases its effects may be exceeded by other anthropogenic changes.

Article

Post-glacial aquatic ecosystems in Eurasia and North America, such as the Baltic Sea, evolved in the freshwater, brackish, and marine environments that fringed the melting glaciers. Warming of the climate initiated sea level and land rise and subsequent changes in aquatic ecosystems. Seminal ideas on ancient developing ecosystems were based on findings in Swedish large lakes of species that had arrived there from adjacent glacial freshwater or marine environments and established populations which have survived up to the present day. An ecosystem of the first freshwater stage, the Baltic Ice Lake initially consisted of ice-associated biota. Subsequent aquatic environments, the Yoldia Sea, the Ancylus Lake, the Litorina Sea, and the Mya Sea, are all named after mollusc trace fossils. These often convey information on the geologic period in question and indicate some physical and chemical characteristics of their environment. The ecosystems of various Baltic Sea stages are regulated primarily by temperature and freshwater runoff (which affects directly and indirectly both salinity and nutrient concentrations). Key ecological environmental factors, such as temperature, salinity, and nutrient levels, not only change seasonally but are also subject to long-term changes (due to astronomical factors) and shorter disturbances, for example, a warm period that essentially formed the Yoldia Sea, and more recently the “Little Ice Age” (which terminated the Viking settlement in Iceland). There is no direct way to study the post-Holocene Baltic Sea stages, but findings in geological samples of ecological keystone species (which may form a physical environment for other species to dwell in and/or largely determine the function of an ecosystem) can indicate ancient large-scale ecosystem features and changes. Such changes have included, for example, development of an initially turbid glacial meltwater to clearer water with increasing primary production (enhanced also by warmer temperatures), eventually leading to self-shading and other consequences of anthropogenic eutrophication (nutrient-rich conditions). Furthermore, the development in the last century from oligotrophic (nutrient-poor) to eutrophic conditions also included shifts between the grazing chain (which include large predators, e.g., piscivorous fish, mammals, and birds at the top of the food chain) and the microbial loop (filtering top predators such as jellyfish). Another large-scale change has been a succession from low (freshwater glacier lake) biodiversity to increased (brackish and marine) biodiversity. The present-day Baltic Sea ecosystem is a direct descendant of the more marine Litorina Sea, which marks the beginning of the transition from a primeval ecosystem to one regulated by humans. The recent Baltic Sea is characterized by high concentrations of pollutants and nutrients, a shift from perennial to annual macrophytes (and more rapid nutrient cycling), and an increasing rate of invasion by non-native species. Thus, an increasing pace of anthropogenic ecological change has been a prominent trend in the Baltic Sea ecosystem since the Ancylus Lake. Future development is in the first place dependent on regional factors, such as salinity, which is regulated by sea and land level changes and the climate, and runoff, which controls both salinity and the leaching of nutrients to the sea. However, uncertainties abound, for example the future development of the Gulf Stream and its associated westerly winds, which support the sub-boreal ecosystems, both terrestrial and aquatic, in the Baltic Sea area. Thus, extensive sophisticated, cross-disciplinary modeling is needed to foresee whether the Baltic Sea will develop toward a freshwater or marine ecosystem, set in a sub-boreal, boreal, or arctic climate.

Article

Climate change and fisheries have significantly changed the Baltic Sea ecosystem, with the demise of Eastern Baltic cod (Gadus morhua callarias) being the signature development. Cod in the Central Baltic Sea collapsed in the late 1980s as a result of low reproductive success and overfishing. Low recruitment and hence small year-classes were not able to compensate for fishing pressures far above sustainable levels. Recruitment failure can be mainly related to the absence of North Sea water inflows to the Central Baltic deep basins. These major Baltic inflows (MBIs) occurred regularly until the 1980s, when their frequency decreased to a decadal pattern, a development attributed to changes in atmospheric circulation patterns. MBIs are needed for ventilation of otherwise stagnating Baltic deep waters, and their absence caused reduced oxygen and salinity levels in cod-spawning habitats, limiting egg and larval survival. Climate change, on the other hand, has promoted a warmer environment richer in zooplanktonic food for larval Baltic sprat (Sprattus sprattus). Resulting large year-classes and low predation by the collapsed cod stock caused an outburst of the sprat stock that cascaded down to the zoo- and phytoplankton trophic levels. Furthermore, a large sprat population controlled cod recruitment and hence hindered a recovery of the stock by predation on cod eggs, limiting cod larval food supply. The change in ecosystem structure and function caused by the collapse of the cod stock was a major part and driver of an ecosystem regime shift in the Central Baltic Sea during the period 1988 to 1993. This reorganization of ecosystem structure involved all trophic levels from piscivorous and planktivorous fish to zoo- and phytoplankton. The observed large-scale ecosystem changes displayed the characteristics of a discontinuous regime shift, initiated by climate-induced changes in the abiotic environment and stabilized by feedback loops in the food web. Discontinuous changes such as regime shifts are characteristically difficult to reverse, and the Baltic ecosystem recently rather shows signs of increasing ecological novelty for which the failed recovery of the cod stock despite a reduction in fishing pressure is a clear symptom. Unusually widespread deficient oxygen conditions in major cod-spawning areas have altered the overall productivity of the population by negatively affecting growth and recruitment. Eutrophication as a consequence of intensive agriculture is the main driver for anoxia in the Baltic Sea amplified by the effects on continuing climate change and stabilized by self-enforcing feedbacks. Developing ecological novelty in the Baltic Sea hence requires true cross-sectoral ecosystem-based management approaches that truly integrate eutrophication combatment, species conservation, and living resources management.

Article

The correlation of climate variability; the change environment, in particular the change of coastlines; and the development of human societies during the last millennia can be studied exemplarily in the Baltic area. The retreat of the Scandinavian ice-sheet vertical crustal movement (glacio-isostatic adjustment), together with climatically controlled sea-level rise and a continuously warming atmosphere, determine a dramatic competition between different forcings of the environment that advancing humans are occupying step by step after the glaciation. These spatially and temporally changing life conditions require a stepwise adjustment of survival strategies. Changes in the natural environment can be reconstructed from sedimentary, biological proxy data and archaeological information. According to these reconstructions, the main shift in the Baltic area’s environment happened about 8,500 years before present (BP) when the Baltic Sea became permanently connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Danish straits and the Sound, and changed the environment from lacustrine to brackish-marine conditions. Human reaction to environmental changes in prehistoric times is mainly reconstructed from remains of ancient settlements—onshore in the uplifting North and underwater in the South dominated by sea-level rise. According to the available data, the human response to environmental change was mainly passive before the successful establishment of agriculture. But it became increasingly active after people settled down and the socioeconomic system changed from hunter-gatherer to farming communities. This change, mainly triggered by the climatic change from the Holocene cool phase to the warming period, is clearly visible in Baltic basin sediment cores as a regime shift 6,000 years (BP). But the archaeological findings prove that the relatively abrupt environmental shift is reflected in the socioeconomic system by a period of transition when hunter-gatherer and farming societies lived in parallel for several centuries. After the Holocene warming, the permanent regression in the Northern Baltic Sea and the transgression in the South did affect the socioeconomic response of the Baltic coastal societies, who migrated downslope at the regressive coast and upslope at the transgressive coast. The following cooling phases, in particular the Late Antique Little Ice Age (LALIA) and the Little Ice Age (LIA), are directly connected with migration and severe changes of the socioeconomic system. After millennia of passive reaction to climate and environmental changes, the Industrial Revolution finally enabled humans to influence and protect actively the environment, and in particular the Baltic Sea shore, by coastal constructions. On the other hand, this ability also affected climate and environment negatively because of the disturbance of the natural balance between climate, geosystem, and ecosystem.

Article

Ralf Weisse and Birgit Hünicke

A multitude of geophysical processes contribute to and determine variations and changes in the height of the Baltic Sea water surface. These processes act on a broad range of characteristic spatial and timescales ranging from a few seconds to millennia. On very long timescales, the northern parts of the Baltic are uplifting due to the still ongoing visco-elastic response of the Earth to the last deglaciation, and mean sea level is decreasing in these regions. Over centuries, the Baltic Sea responds to changes in global and North Atlantic mean sea level. Processes affecting global mean sea level, such as warming of the world ocean or melting of glaciers and of polar ice sheets, do have an imprint on Baltic Sea levels. Over decades, variations and changes in atmospheric circulation affect transport through the Danish Straits connecting the Baltic and North seas. As a result, the amount of water in the Baltic Sea and the height of the sea level vary. Similarly, atmospheric variability on shorter timescales down to a few days cause shorter period variations of transport through the Danish Straits and Baltic Sea level. On even shorter timescales, the Danish Straits act as a low pass filter, and high frequency variations of the water surface within the Baltic Sea such as storm surges, wind waves, or seiches are solely caused internally. All such processes have undergone considerable variations and changes in the past. Similarly, they are expected to show variations and changes in the future and across a broad range of scales, leaving their imprint on observed and potential future Baltic Sea level and its variability.

Article

Dramatic climate changes have occurred in the Baltic Sea region caused by changes in orbital movement in the earth–sun system and the melting of the Fennoscandian Ice Sheet. Added to these longer-term changes, changes have occurred at all timescales, caused mainly by variations in large-scale atmospheric pressure systems due to competition between the meandering midlatitude low-pressure systems and high-pressure systems. Here we follow the development of climate science of the Baltic Sea from when observations began in the 18th century to the early 21st century. The question of why the water level is sinking around the Baltic Sea coasts could not be answered until the ideas of postglacial uplift and the thermal history of the earth were better understood in the 19th century and periodic behavior in climate related time series attracted scientific interest. Herring and sardine fishing successes and failures have led to investigations of fishery and climate change and to the realization that fisheries themselves have strongly negative effects on the marine environment, calling for international assessment efforts. Scientists later introduced the concept of regime shifts when interpreting their data, attributing these to various causes. The increasing amount of anoxic deep water in the Baltic Sea and eutrophication have prompted debate about what is natural and what is anthropogenic, and the scientific outcome of these debates now forms the basis of international management efforts to reduce nutrient leakage from land. The observed increase in atmospheric CO2 and its effects on global warming have focused the climate debate on trends and generated a series of international and regional assessments and research programs that have greatly improved our understanding of climate and environmental changes, bolstering the efforts of earth system science, in which both climate and environmental factors are analyzed together. Major achievements of past centuries have included developing and organizing regular observation and monitoring programs. The free availability of data sets has supported the development of more accurate forcing functions for Baltic Sea models and made it possible to better understand and model the Baltic Sea–North Sea system, including the development of coupled land–sea–atmosphere models. Most indirect and direct observations of the climate find great variability and stochastic behavior, so conclusions based on short time series are problematic, leading to qualifications about periodicity, trends, and regime shifts. Starting in the 1980s, systematic research into climate change has considerably improved our understanding of regional warming and multiple threats to the Baltic Sea. Several aspects of regional climate and environmental changes and how they interact are, however, unknown and merit future research.

Article

Climate change influences the Baltic Sea ecosystem via its effects on oceanography and biogeochemistry. Sea surface temperature has been projected to increase by 2 to 4 °C until 2100 due to global warming; the changes will be more significant in the northern areas and less so in the south. The warming up will also diminish the annual sea ice cover by 57% to 71%, and ice season will be one to three months shorter than in the early 21st century, depending on latitude. A significant decrease in sea surface salinity has been projected because of an increase in rainfall and decrease of saline inflows into the Baltic Sea. The increasing surface flow has, in turn, been projected to increase leaching of nutrients from the soil to the watershed and eventually into the Baltic Sea. Also, acidification of the seawater and sea-level rise have been predicted. Increasing seawater temperature speeds up metabolic processes and increases growth rates of many secondary producers. Species associated with sea ice, from salt brine microbes to seals, will suffer. Due to the specific salinity tolerances, species’ geographical ranges may shift by tens or hundreds of kilometres with decreasing salinity. A decrease in pH will slow down calcification of bivalve shells, and higher temperatures also alleviate establishment of non-indigenous species originating from more southern sea areas. Many uncertainties still remain in predicting the couplings between atmosphere, oceanography and ecosystem. Especially projections of many oceanographic parameters, such as wind speeds and directions, the mean salinity level, and density stratification, are still ambiguous. Also, the effects of simultaneous changes in multiple environmental factors on species with variable preferences to temperature, salinity, and nutrient conditions are difficult to project. There is, however, enough evidence to claim that due to increasing runoff of nutrients from land and warming up of water, primary production and sedimentation of organic matter will increase; this will probably enhance anoxia and release of phosphorus from sediments. Such changes may keep the Baltic Sea in an eutrophicated state for a long time, unless strong measures to decrease nutrient runoff from land are taken. Changes in the pelagic and benthic communities are anticipated. Benthic communities will change from marine to relatively more euryhaline communities and will suffer from hypoxic events. The projected temperature increase and salinity decline will contribute to maintain the pelagic ecosystem of the Central Baltic and the Gulf of Finland in a state dominated by cyanobacteria, flagellates, small-sized zooplankton and sprat, instead of diatoms, large marine copepods, herring, and cod. Effects vary from area to area, however. In particular the Bothnian Sea, where hypoxia is less common and rivers carry a lot of dissolved organic carbon, primary production will probably not increase as much as in the other basins. The coupled oceanography-biogeochemistry ecosystem models have greatly advanced our understanding of the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems. Also, studies on climate associated “regime shifts” and cascading effects from top predators to plankton have been fundamental for understanding of the response of the Baltic Sea ecosystem to anthropogenic and climatic stress. In the future, modeling efforts should be focusing on coupling of biogeochemical processes and lower trophic levels to the top predators. Also, fine resolution species distribution models should be developed and combined with 3-D modelling, to describe how the species and communities are responding to climate-induced changes in environmental variables.

Article

In this article, the concepts and background of regional climate modeling of the future Baltic Sea are summarized and state-of-the-art projections, climate change impact studies, and challenges are discussed. The focus is on projected oceanographic changes in future climate. However, as these changes may have a significant impact on biogeochemical cycling, nutrient load scenario simulations in future climates are briefly discussed as well. The Baltic Sea is special compared to other coastal seas as it is a tideless, semi-enclosed sea with large freshwater and nutrient supply from a partly heavily populated catchment area and a long response time of about 30 years, and as it is, in the early 21st century, warming faster than any other coastal sea in the world. Hence, policymakers request the development of nutrient load abatement strategies in future climate. For this purpose, large ensembles of coupled climate–environmental scenario simulations based upon high-resolution circulation models were developed to estimate changes in water temperature, salinity, sea-ice cover, sea level, oxygen, nutrient, and phytoplankton concentrations, and water transparency, together with uncertainty ranges. Uncertainties in scenario simulations of the Baltic Sea are considerable. Sources of uncertainties are global and regional climate model biases, natural variability, and unknown greenhouse gas emission and nutrient load scenarios. Unknown early 21st-century and future bioavailable nutrient loads from land and atmosphere and the experimental setup of the dynamical downscaling technique are perhaps the largest sources of uncertainties for marine biogeochemistry projections. The high uncertainties might potentially be reducible through investments in new multi-model ensemble simulations that are built on better experimental setups, improved models, and more plausible nutrient loads. The development of community models for the Baltic Sea region with improved performance and common coordinated experiments of scenario simulations is recommended.