The Mediterranean Sea regime shift at the end of the 1980s, and intriguing parallelisms with other European basins.
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BACKGROUND: Regime shifts are abrupt changes encompassing a multitude of physical properties and ecosystem variables, which lead to new regime conditions. Recent investigations focus on the changes in ecosystem diversity and functioning associated to such shifts. Of particular interest, because of the implication on climate drivers, are shifts that occur synchronously in separated basins. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: In this work we analyze and review long-term records of Mediterranean ecological and hydro-climate variables and find that all point to a synchronous change in the late 1980s. A quantitative synthesis of the literature (including observed oceanic data, models and satellite analyses) shows that these years mark a major change in Mediterranean hydrographic properties, surface circulation, and deep water convection (the Eastern Mediterranean Transient). We provide novel analyses that link local, regional and basin scale hydrological properties with two major indicators of large scale climate, the North Atlantic Oscillation index and the Northern Hemisphere Temperature index, suggesting that the Mediterranean shift is part of a large scale change in the Northern Hemisphere. We provide a simplified scheme of the different effects of climate vs. temperature on pelagic ecosystems. CONCLUSIONS: Our results show that the Mediterranean Sea underwent a major change at the end of the 1980s that encompassed atmospheric, hydrological, and ecological systems, for which it can be considered a regime shift. We further provide evidence that the local hydrography is linked to the larger scale, northern hemisphere climate. These results suggest that the shifts that affected the North, Baltic, Black and Mediterranean (this work) Seas at the end of the 1980s, that have been so far only partly associated, are likely linked as part a northern hemisphere change. These findings bear wide implications for the development of climate change scenarios, as synchronous shifts may provide the key for distinguishing local (i.e., basin) anthropogenic drivers, such as eutrophication or fishing, from larger scale (hemispheric) climate drivers.
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