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Is observed variability in the long-term results of the Continuous Plankton Recorder survey a response to climate change?

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In the more than 50 years that the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey has operated on a regular monthly basis in the north-east Atlantic and North Sea, large changes have been witnessed in the planktonic ecosystem. These changes have taken the form of long-term trends in abundance for certain species or stepwise changes for others, and in many cases are correlated with a mode of climatic variability in the North Atlantic, either: (1) the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), a basin-scale atmospheric alteration of the pressure field between the Azores high pressure cell and the Icelandic Low; or (2) the Gulf Stream Index (GSI), which measures the latitudinal position of the north wall of the Gulf Stream. Recent work has shown that the changes in the GSI are coupled with the NAO and Pacific Southern Oscillation with a 2 year lag. The plankton variability is also possibly linked to changes observed in the distribution and flux of water masses in the surface, intermediate and deep waters of the North Atlantic. For example, in the last two decades, the extent and location of the formation of North Atlantic Deep Water, Labrador Sea Intermediate Water and Norwegian Sea intermediate and upper-layer water has altered considerably. This paper discusses the extent to which observed changes in plankton abundance and distribution may be linked to this basin-scale variability in hydrodynamics. The results are also placed within the context of global climate warming and the possible effects of the observed melting of Arctic permafrost and sea ice on the subpolar North Atlantic.
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Keywords: Continuous Plankton Recorder; Gulf Stream; Labrador Sea Water; NAO; North Atlantic Deep Water; North Sea; Norwegian Sea; plankton

Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: 1: Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, Plymouth PL1 2PB, UK, 2: Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Lowestoft Laboratory, Pakefield Road, Lowestoft NR33 0HT, UK

Publication date: 1998-12-01

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