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Emerging Vibrio risk at high latitudes in response to ocean warming

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 27 July 2016

This article has been updated


There is increasing concern regarding the role of climate change in driving bacterial waterborne infectious diseases. Here we illustrate associations between environmental changes observed in the Baltic area and the recent emergence of Vibrio infections and also forecast future scenarios of the risk of infections in correspondence with predicted warming trends. Using multidecadal long-term sea surface temperature data sets we found that the Baltic Sea is warming at an unprecedented rate. Sea surface temperature trends (1982–2010) indicate a warming pattern of 0.063–0.078 °C yr−1 (6.3–7.8 °C per century; refs 1, 2), with recent peak temperatures unequalled in the history of instrumented measurements for this region. These warming patterns have coincided with the unexpected emergence of Vibrio infections in northern Europe, many clustered around the Baltic Sea area. The number and distribution of cases correspond closely with the temporal and spatial peaks in sea surface temperatures. This is among the first empirical evidence that anthropogenic climate change is driving the emergence of Vibrio disease in temperate regions through its impact on resident bacterial communities, implying that this process is reshaping the distribution of infectious diseases across global scales.

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Figure 1: Warming trends in the region limited by 54° N–60° N, 10° E–20° E in the Baltic Sea.
Figure 2: Vibrio cases and SST.
Figure 3: SST temperature and salinity for the summer of 2006 and estimation of the risk of infection.

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Change history

  • 27 June 2016

    In the version of this Letter originally published, an outdated version of Figure panel 3d was displayed in Fig. 3, and so the population density and risk data shown was incorrect. Figure panel 3d has been replaced in the online version of this Letter.


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C.B-A. was supported by the Cefas Seedcorn programme. J.A.T. was partially financially supported by NOAA/CoastWatch and by project 09MDS009CT from X. de Galicia. We thank members of the VibrioNet consortium and C. Schets for informal discussion on the epidemiological data sets and J. V. McArthur and R. Cary Tuckfield for comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.

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Authors and Affiliations



C.B-A., J.A.T. and J.M-U. conceived the project. J.A.T. and J.M-U. designed experiments and C.B-A., J.A.T., J.M-U. and N.G.H.T. analysed the data. R.H. and A.S. provided valuable interpretations. C.B.A, J.A.T., N.G.H.T. and J.M-U. wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Craig Baker-Austin.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Baker-Austin, C., Trinanes, J., Taylor, N. et al. Emerging Vibrio risk at high latitudes in response to ocean warming. Nature Clim Change 3, 73–77 (2013).

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