The Atlantic gateway to the Arctic Ocean is influenced by vigorous inflows of Atlantic Water. The high-latitude impacts of these inflows have strengthened owing to climate change, particularly since 2000, driving so-called ‘Atlantification’ — a transition of Arctic waters to a state more closely resembling that of the Atlantic. In this Review, we discuss the physical and ecological manifestations of Atlantification in a hotspot region of climate change spanning the southern Barents Sea to the Eurasian Basin. Atlantification is driven by anomalous Atlantic Water inflows and is modulated by local processes, including: reduced atmospheric cooling, which amplifies warming in the southern Barents Sea; reduced freshwater input and stronger influence of ice import in the northern Barents Sea; and enhanced upper ocean mixing and air–ice–ocean coupling in the Eurasian Basin. Ecosystem responses to Atlantification encompass increased production, northward expansion of boreal species (borealization), an increased importance of the pelagic compartment populated by new species, an increasingly connected food web and a gradual reduction of the ice-associated ecosystem compartment. Considering the complex evidence supporting Atlantification, dedicated, multidisciplinary observations and advanced modelling experiments targeting large-scale changes in the system and specific mechanisms responsible for local and remote changes are urgently needed.
The inflow of warm and salty Atlantic Water into the Atlantic gateway to the Arctic, which spans from the southern Barents Sea and the Fram Strait towards the eastern Eurasian Basin, is a major oceanic heat source to the Arctic Ocean.
Atlantification is related to the progression of temperature anomalies, which are strongly modified in transit owing to feedbacks and regional processes not necessarily forced by changes in the Atlantic Water flow.
Changes in the Barents Sea include warming and a receding seasonal sea ice cover, increasing importance of boreal species and altered food web linkages; all are expected to be exacerbated by future warming.
The observed changes in ecosystem properties goes in the direction of an increased capacity to adjust to Atlantification, at the cost of Arctic species, and greater sensitivity to environmental perturbations.
Changes in the Eurasian Basin will likely amplify feedback mechanisms, thus enhancing the coupling between ocean, sea ice and atmosphere, with consequences for decreasing sea ice and higher primary and secondary production.
Future research addressing changes in the Arctic Ocean halocline and the denser waters below it, and changes in phenology and adaptive capacity of the ecosystems, should be of high priority.
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R.B.I., K.M.A., R.P. and M.F. acknowledge support from the Research Council of Norway through the Nansen Legacy project (276730) and the project for Monitoring the Marine Climate at the Institute of Marine Research in Norway. I.V.P. is supported by the NABOS (Nansen and Amundsen Basins Observational System) project, with support from NSF (grants AON-1203473, AON-1724523 and AON-1947162). The authors are also grateful to ICES Working Group on Oceanic Hydrography (WGOH) for collecting, providing and assessing long time series of hydrography in the Nordic and Barents seas. The authors thank J. Aarflot, Ø. Skagseth, P. Dalpadado and L. C. Stige for providing data for the figures, and P. Dalpadado, M. Skern-Mauritzen, L. L. Jørgensen, A. Sundfjord and L. H. Smedsrud for their help in preparing the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Ingvaldsen, R.B., Assmann, K.M., Primicerio, R. et al. Physical manifestations and ecological implications of Arctic Atlantification. Nat Rev Earth Environ 2, 874–889 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-021-00228-x
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