In July 2012, the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) melted to an extent unprecedented over the last 100 years; we questioned the potential for such an extreme melt event to impact marine phytoplankton offshore. We hypothesized that stratification from meltwater could reduce light limitation for phytoplankton, and used a suite of numerical models to quantify the impact for 2003–2012. Because much of the 2012 meltwater discharged from southern Greenland, our study focused on the southwestern and southeastern coasts of Greenland, and the Labrador Sea. A 1-D phytoplankton model used output from a Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) coupled with a Regional Climate Model and a hydrological model of meltwater from runoff sources on the ice sheet, peripheral glaciers, and tundra. ROMS was run with and without meltwater to test the sensitivity of phytoplankton photosynthetic rates to the meltwater input. With meltwater, the pycnocline was shallower during late summer and early fall and thus light limitation on photosynthesis was reduced. Averaged over all years, added meltwater had the potential to increase gross primary production by 3–12% in the summer (July–August), and 13–60% in the fall (September–October). This meltwater effect was amplified when light was more limiting, and thus was greatest in the fall, under cloudier conditions, with higher self-shading, and with more light-sensitive phytoplankton groups. As the GrIS melt is projected to increase, late summer primary production in this region has the potential to increase as well, which could constitute an important biosphere response to high-latitude climate change.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Geochemistry and Petrology
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Space and Planetary Science
- freshwater discharge