, Volume 38, Issue 9-10, pp 1703-1713,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Effect of climate change on the thermal stratification of the baltic sea: a sensitivity experiment

Abstract

The evolution in time of the thermal vertical stratification of the Baltic Sea in future climate is studied using a 3D ocean model. Comparing periods at the end of the twentieth and twenty first centuries we found a strong increase in stratification at the bottom of the mixed layer in the northern Baltic Sea. In order to understand the causes of this increase, a sensitivity analysis is performed. We found that the increased vertical stratification is explained by a major change in re-stratification during spring solely caused by the increase of the mean temperature. As in present climate winter temperatures in the Baltic are often below the temperature of maximum density, warming causes thermal convection. Re-stratification during the beginning of spring is then triggered by the spreading of freshwater. This process is believed to be important for the onset of the spring bloom. In future climate, temperatures are expected to be usually higher than the temperature of maximum density and thermally induced stratification will start without prior thermal convection. Thus, freshwater controlled re-stratification during spring is not an important process anymore. We employed a simple box model and used sensitivity experiments with the 3D ocean model to delineate the processes involved and to quantify the impact of changing freshwater supply on the thermal stratification in the Baltic Sea. It is suggested that these stratification changes may have an important impact on vertical nutrient fluxes and the intensity of the spring bloom in future climate of the Baltic Sea.