The gulf of Bothnia: The northernmost part of the Baltic Sea
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The Baltic Sea, one of the largest brackish water areas in the world, can be characterized as a young, cold sea containing an impoverished ecosystem due to salinity stress. The present Baltic Sea was formed as late as 2000 to 2500 years ago when the Danish sounds became more narrow and shallow. The inflow of freshwater from the surrounding land areas caused the Baltic to gradually attain its brackish character. Today the Baltic covers an area of some 366,000 km2 as a series of basins separated by shallower areas and filled with about 22,000 km3 of brackish water. These basins are, from north to south, the Gulf of Bothnia, the Gulf of Finland, the Gotland Sea and the Bornholm Sea. The climate gradient ranges from almost arctic conditions in the extreme north to a more maritime climate in the southern parts. The North Sea salt water is connected to the Baltic through the shallow Kattegat and the sills in the Danish sounds. The inflow of salt water occurs in two different ways,viz. as a continuous flow along the bottom due to the salinity gradient and as pulses of salt water generated by the distribution of air pressure and the direction of the wind. The freshwater input (500 km3) from mainly the large rivers equals roughly the net outflow and stresses the south-bound current along the Swedish coast that also compensates for the salt water inflow. Tidal movements can be seen in the southern Baltic, but are of minor importance for the system. The residence time of the total water mass is 25 years and the hydrographical conditions within the different basins are stable and dominated by a permanent halocline, and a thermocline developing every spring. The salinity ranges from about 1–2 per mille in the innermost part of the Gulf of Bothnia to 10–15 per mille in the Bornholm Sea. Total vertical mixing takes place during winter in at least the northern parts of the sea. Due to the climate-gradient, the ice condition differs from about four months of total ice-cover in the inner parts of the Gulf of Bothnia to one month or less of coastal ice in the southern part of the Baltic. Thus, the seasonal effect is more pronounced in the northern parts.
The living systems of the Baltic are reduced and adapted to these varying conditions. When comparing the deeper soft bottoms of the Gulf of Bothnia to the rest of the Baltic, the following pattern can be seen. The pelagic primary productivity increases by a factor 6 from north to south. The southern parts of the sea show a pronounced spring peak, while in the north the spring development is delayed or replaced by a summer maximum. The total increase of the macrofauna biomass is striking, from about 1 g.m−2 (w.wt) in the north to 100 g.m−2 (w.wt) or more in the south. The meiofauna and the zooplankton biomasses show less variability. The meiofauna increases by a factor of 2–4, giving a biomass of about twice that of the macrofauna in the northernmost part. The extremely low salinity of this area causes the exclusion of bivalves (filter-feeders) from the fauna. Available data, pooled with the high metabolic rate of the meiofauna, roughly follow the changes in primary productivity within the Baltic Sea. The changing ratio of macro- to meiofauna, as well as results from intensive studies of the macrobenthic amphipodPontoporeia affinis (Lindström), suggest that the macrofauna is regulated mainly by food limitation and that the benthic and pelagic systems are closely coupled.
KeywordsSalt Water Northernmost Part Pelagic Primary Productivity Macrofauna Biomass Brackish Water Area
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