Climate change and harmful algal blooms: insights and perspective

Highlights

• Climate change is transforming aquatic ecosystems.

• Coastal waters have experienced progressive warming, acidification, and deoxygenation.

• The impacts of harmful algal blooms (HABs) on coastal systems have increased in recent decades.

• HABs display an expansion in range and frequency in response to climatic and non-climatic drivers.

• This Special Issue considers linkages between climate change and HABs.

Abstract

Climate change is transforming aquatic ecosystems. Coastal waters have experienced progressive warming, acidification, and deoxygenation that will intensify this century. At the same time, there is a scientific consensus that the public health, recreation, tourism, fishery, aquaculture, and ecosystem impacts from harmful algal blooms (HABs) have all increased over the past several decades. The extent to which climate change is intensifying these HABs is not fully clear, but there has been a wealth of research on this topic this century alone. Indeed, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) approved in September 2019 was the first IPCC report to directly link HABs to climate change. In the Summary for Policy Makers, the report made the following declarations with “high confidence”:

• Harmful algal blooms display range expansion and increased frequency in coastal areas since the 1980s in response to both climatic and non-climatic drivers such as increased riverine nutrients run-off.

• The observed trends in harmful algal blooms are attributed partly to the effects of ocean warming, marine heatwaves, oxygen loss, eutrophication and pollution.

• Harmful algal blooms have had negative impacts on food security, tourism, local economy, and human health.

In addition, the report specifically outlines a series of linkages between heat waves and HABs. These statements about HABs and climate change and the high levels of confidence ascribed to them provides clear evidence that the field of HABs and climate change has matured and has, perhaps, reached a first plateau of certainty. While there are well-documented global trends in HABs being promoted by human activity, including climate change, individual events are driven by local, regional, and global drivers, making it critical to carefully evaluate the conditions and responses at appropriate scales. It is within this context that the first Special Issue on Climate Change and Harmful Algal Blooms is published in Harmful Algae.

Gobler C. J., in press. Climate change and harmful Algal blooms: insights and perspective. Harmful Algae. Article (subscription required).

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OA-ICC HIGHLIGHTS

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