From terrestrial greening to coastal darkening
Northern Europe is getting greener and has so for more than a century due to land use change, reduced grazing, and climate change. Degrading plant materials dissolved in lakes and rivers creates a brown colour. More plants, leads to more colour, which we call browning. Since freshwater eventually ends up in the ocean, a common assumption has been that the dilution will render the effect of browning insignificant for marine life. However, coastal water masses do not mix continuosly with the ocean, and the fresh brown water is retained, as is easiliy seen in the brackish Baltic Sea, but also observable as a darkening effect in the much saltier Norwegian coastal waters. Darker waters is assumed to have consequence for all marine life directly or indirectly dependent on vision or photosynthesis.
The RCN funded project A green-blue link made browner: how terrestrial climate change affects marine ecology will try to disentangle the chain of events from atmospheric processes to terretrial greening to freshwater browning and eventually coastal ecology. The project is led by Anders Frugård Opdal at TEG, and involves partners from the AKVA group and Department of Geosciences at the University of Oslo, in addition to Umeå University in Sweden and the Finnish Environment Institute.
BackgroundIn 2009, Dag L. Aksnes (TEG) and collegues published the paper Coastal water darkening and implications for mesopelagic regime shifts in Norwegian fjords - one of the first publications to suggest a long term trend of decreasing coastal water clarity and its influence on marine ecology.
Prior to this, it was fairly well documented that freshwaters all over northern Europe was getting browner (Monteith et al 2007), although the drivers are still debated (Kritzberg 2017, 2020; Monteith, 2007).
The link between freshwater browning and coastal darkening was not obvious, perhaps due to a communication gap between the two research fields. We hope our project can be a step towards closing that gap.
Project objectiveWe know that freshwater is getting browner and coastal water is getting darker. What we don't know is 1) how closely these two independent observations are linked, 2) the ultimate drivers and 3) the ecological consequences.
Project outcomes and news
Sorge wegen brauner Seen und dunkler Küsten
This week, the
ASLO 2021 Aquatic Sciences Meeting
is taking place in virtual Mallorca. Anne Deininger (NIVA), Anders F. Opdal (TEG), Dag O. Hessen (UiO), and Helene Frigstad (NIVA) chaired session SS47 Freshwater browning and coastal darkening.
Das Wasser einiger Fjorde an der Westküste Norwegens wird immer brauner (Credit: picture alliance / zb | Andreas Franke)
Prior to the conference, Anne and Anders were interviewed by the German radio braodcaster Deutsclandfunk, and their daily science program Forschung aktuell. Finally, we made it to German radio! Dubbed to German, natürlich. Listen to the whole interview here.
Seit einigen Jahren werden die Seen und Flüsse in Skandinavien immer dunkler. Inzwischen sind auch die Küstengewässer betroffen. Grund dafür ist nicht Umweltverschmutzung, sondern im Gegenteil: Ein Faktor ist sauberere Luft. Die dunkle Farbe bringt jedoch ganze Ökosysteme durcheinander.
Hakai Magazine published a feature article on coastal water darkening
Hakai Magazine published a feature article on coastal water darkening by Doug Johnson: The environmental threat you’ve never heard of.
Brown freshwater draining from rivers to the coastal waters.( Photo: LWM/NASA/LANDSAT/Alamy Stock Photo.)
The article features interviews with Anders F. Opdal from the Theoretical Ecolgoy Group, in addition to Maren Striebel and Oliver Zielinski in The Coastal Water Darkening Project, and Amanda Poste from NINA. The story revolves around findings from a recent paper by Poste, Maeve McGovern, and colleagues at NIVA and University of Oslo. The magazine article is a bit doom-and-gloom, but the researchers did manage to get through a few moderating points.
All in all, it’s difficult to pin down any specific consequences of coastal darkening, says Opdal. [...] It’s a tricky thing to study, with many moving parts.
You can read the whole article here:
Hakai Magazine: The environmental threat you’ve never heard of
NIVA publishes a national review on coastal darkening
Our colleagues at NIVA recently published a national review on coastal darkening research:
Increased light attenuation in Norwegian coastal waters - A literature review.
The report, lead authored by Helene Frigstad, was also transformed into a research article published in Frontiers in Marine Science:
Influence of Riverine Input on Norwegian Coastal Systems.
The report and article concludes that human induced changes on land are the primary driver of coastal darkening.
From the report cover. (Photo: Anne Deininger, NIVA)
Coastal water darkening in the national news
The Norwegian national broadcasting company (NRK) wrote a short news story about our project Nytt miljøproblem i Norge: Klimaendringer gjør havet mørkere [In Norwegian]. Anders F. Opdal and Anders F. Opdal at TEG were interviewed.
Heavily brown coloured freshwater in a Swedish river.(Photo: Øyvind Fiksen.)
Despite the title, neither Opdal nor Aksnes stated that coastal darkening was an environmental problem.
Mørkere hav kan få konsekvenser for småfisken, ifølge professor. Nå skal forskere bruke de neste fire årene på å finne ut om det er en krise for økosystemet.
The article was followed up by a radio interview on the local news program Hordaland i dag. (Scroll to the header Kvifor blir sjøen mørkare or 1:09:45 into the timeline.)
Coastal water darkening in science news on the radio
Dag O. Hessen of University of Oslo and Dag L. Aksnes from TEG appear on the Norwegian radio program Ekko discussing the causes and consequences of darker coastal waters.
The full radio program [In Norwegian] is available here:
(select the header Havet blir mørkere or scroll to 27:02 on the timeline).
Hva i all verden er det som skjer, undrer jeg. Hva er det som slukker lyset i fjordene og havet? [...]. Det viser seg at Dag Hessen er på saken.
Coastal Water Darkening at forskning.no
A phytoplankton bloom in the North Sea in spring 2018. (Photo: NASA.)
Read the story at forskning.no here:
forskning.no: Mørkere vann forsinker algenes årlige vårfest i Nordsjøen
The magazine article, by Øystein Rygg Haanes, focuses on the potential effect of darkening on the annual phytoplankton spring bloom.
Påstår bestefaren din at vannet langs kysten var klarere da han var ung? Det trenger slett ikke være gubbete glorifisering av gode, gamle dager. Ny forskning viser at Nordsjøen var klarere for hundre år siden. En av årsakene til formørkningen er økt plantevekst på land, som fører til at mer fargestoff – nedbrutt organisk materiale – finner veien ut i havet.
The interview is based on this recent paper:
Phytoplankton Bloom Timing Influenced by Terrestrial Runoff
In their newly accepted paper in Global Change Biology), Anders F. Opdal, Christian Lindemann, and Dag L. Aksnes provide evidence suggesting that the centennial decrease in North sea water clarity may have delayed the phytoplankton spring bloom by up to 3 weeks compared to the early 1900s. This delay stands in contrast to the earlier bloom onset typically expected from global warming.
Predicted phytoplankton response to increased non-chlorophyll light attenuation.
The study utilized a 100-year time series of Secchi disk depth along with various proxies for phytoplankton concentrations. The authors conclude that factors other than phytoplankton, such as increased dissolved organic matter of terrestrial origin, also known as browning, has caused the observed reduction in North Sea water clarity. Through several numerical simulations of water columns, the authors find that the observed coastal water darkening would have delayed the spring bloom by up to three weeks since the early 1900s. In the future, climate warming is expected to further increase browning in lakes and rivers due to increases in terrestrial greening, ultimately reducing water clarity in coastal areas where freshwater drains. However, increased ocean temperature is also suggested to advance the spring phytoplankton bloom due to earlier shoaling of the mixed layer. These contrasting responses highlight the importance of including water transparency in analyses of phytoplankton phenology and primary production.
I am currently very interested in the field of life history evolution, and often find myself somewhere in the interface between long-term data series and theoretical modelling.
My main scientific interests are in the ecology and bio-physical coupling of plankton, in particular phytoplankton and its impacts on the emergent structures of the pelagic food-web. To investigate this I have been involving in work using different numerical tools and modeling approaches.
Two of my current research questions are about mesopelagic fishes and their potential role in carbon sequestration and about effects of increased terrestrial greening on marine ecosystems. I am also engaged in science advise on how to achieve more sustainable food and feed production.
I am particularly interested in behaviour and life-history of marine organisms, and how traits emerge in populations and ecosystems through natural selection.
Group Leader, Professor
I work with adaptation as a tool to build models that scale mechanisms at the individual level to population-level patterns and evolutionary outcomes. Topics of interest include mating systems, fishing-induced evolution, life history theory, and algorithms for modelling evolution.