Letter

Emergent constraints on projections of declining primary production in the tropical oceans

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Published online:

Abstract

Marine primary production is a fundamental component of the Earth system, providing the main source of food and energy to the marine food web, and influencing the concentration of atmospheric CO 2 (refs 1,2). Earth system model (ESM) projections of global marine primary production are highly uncertain with models projecting both increases3,4 and declines of up to 20% by 21005,6. This uncertainty is predominantly driven by the sensitivity of tropical ocean primary production to climate change, with the latest ESMs suggesting twenty-first-century tropical declines of between 1 and 30% (refs 5,6). Here we identify an emergent relationship7,8,9,10,11 between the long-term sensitivity of tropical ocean primary production to rising equatorial zone sea surface temperature (SST) and the interannual sensitivity of primary production to El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-driven SST anomalies. Satellite-based observations of the ENSO sensitivity of tropical primary production are then used to constrain projections of the long-term climate impact on primary production. We estimate that tropical primary production will decline by 3 ± 1% per kelvin increase in equatorial zone SST. Under a business-as-usual emissions scenario this results in an 11 ± 6% decline in tropical marine primary production and a 6 ± 3% decline in global marine primary production by 2100.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded by the ERC IMBALANCE-P synergy grant (ref. 610028) and the H2020 CRESCENDO grant (ref. 641816). We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provided coordinating support and led the development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organisation for Earth System Science Portals. To analyse the CMIP5 data, this study benefited from the IPSL Prodiguer-Ciclad facility, which is supported by CNRS, UPMC, Labex L-IPSL, which is funded by the ANR (ref. ANR-10-LABX-0018) and by the European FP7 IS-ENES2 project (ref. 312979).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement (LSCE), IPSL, CEA/CNRS/UVSQ, Orme des Merisiers, Gif-sur-Yvette 91190, France

    • Lester Kwiatkowski
    • , Laurent Bopp
    •  & Philippe Ciais
  2. Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique (LMD), IPSL, CNRS/Ecole Normale Supérieure/Ecole Polytechnique/UPMC, 24 rue Lhomond, 75231 Paris Cedex 05, France

    • Laurent Bopp
  3. Laboratoire d’Océanographie et de Climatologie: Expérimentation et Approches Numériques (LOCEAN), IPSL, CNRS/UPMC/IRD/MNHN, 4 Place Jussieu, 75005 Paris, France

    • Olivier Aumont
  4. College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QF, UK

    • Peter M. Cox
  5. NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08540, USA

    • Charlotte Laufkötter
  6. Sino-French Institute for Earth System Science, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

    • Yue Li
  7. Centre National de Recherches Météorologiques (CNRM), Météo-France/CNRS, 42 Avenue Gaspard Coriolis, 31057 Toulouse, France

    • Roland Séférian

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Contributions

L.K. and L.B. led the study. R.S. provided observational data. C.L. and P.M.C. provided analytical assistance. All co-authors contributed to the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lester Kwiatkowski.

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