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Nature. 2005 Mar 31;434(7033):628-33.

Decline of the marine ecosystem caused by a reduction in the Atlantic overturning circulation.

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College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, 104 COAS Admin. Bldg, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA.


Reorganizations of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation were associated with large and abrupt climatic changes in the North Atlantic region during the last glacial period. Projections with climate models suggest that similar reorganizations may also occur in response to anthropogenic global warming. Here I use ensemble simulations with a coupled climate-ecosystem model of intermediate complexity to investigate the possible consequences of such disturbances to the marine ecosystem. In the simulations, a disruption of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation leads to a collapse of the North Atlantic plankton stocks to less than half of their initial biomass, owing to rapid shoaling of winter mixed layers and their associated separation from the deep ocean nutrient reservoir. Globally integrated export production declines by more than 20 per cent owing to reduced upwelling of nutrient-rich deep water and gradual depletion of upper ocean nutrient concentrations. These model results are consistent with the available high-resolution palaeorecord, and suggest that global ocean productivity is sensitive to changes in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation.

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