The Mediterranean Rhodes gyre: modelled impacts of climate change, acidification and fishing

The Mediterranean Rhodes gyre is a cyclonic gyre with high primary production due to local upwelling of nutrients, and occasional deep overturning up to 1km depth. This nutrient-rich state is in sharp contrast to other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean which are oligotrophic. Here we study the upwelling system central to the Rhodes gyre and the impact of different stressors like meteorological changes, acidification and fishing pressure up to the year 2100. A water column model spanning the physical, chemical and biological system up to top predators (GOTM-ERSEM-BFM-EwE) was used to simulate the pelagic environment under single and combined stressors. Results show that due to increasing winter temperatures deep overturning events are becoming more rare in the future, until they stop occurring around 2060 under the business-as-usual climate scenario (RCP8.5). Stratification becomes stronger as temperature effects outweigh salinity effects in the surface mixed layer. Together with the lack of deep overturning this limits the nutrient supply to the euphotic zone, significantly reducing primary production. Phytoplankton species shift towards smaller species as nutrients become more scarce, mimicking the situation found currently on the edge of the gyre. Climatic changes and fishing pressure affected higher trophic levels in an additive way for some species (sardines, dolphins), while in a synergistic way for others (anchovy, mackerel). Acidification impacts were negligible. Fish stocks reduced significantly under the 2 climate scenarios considered: ~30% under RCP4.5 and ~40% under RCP8.5, with limited beneficial impact of MSY-level fishing, indicating a need for mitigating measures beyond fleet control.

van Leeuwen S. M., Beecham J. A., García-García L. M. & Thorpe R., 2022. The Mediterranean Rhodes gyre: modelled impacts of climate change, acidification and fishing. Marine Ecology Progress Series 690: 31-50. Article (subscription required).

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