Climate change and the timing, magnitude, and composition of the phytoplankton spring bloom


Ulrich Sommer, tel. +49 431 600 4400, fax +49 431 600 4402, e-mail:


In this article, we show by mesocosm experiments that winter and spring warming will lead to substantial changes in the spring bloom of phytoplankton. The timing of the spring bloom shows only little response to warming as such, while light appears to play a more important role in its initiation. The daily light dose needed for the start of the phytoplankton spring bloom in our experiments agrees well with a recently published critical light intensity found in a field survey of the North Atlantic (around 1.3 mol photons m−2 day−1). Experimental temperature elevation had a strong effect on phytoplankton peak biomass (decreasing with temperature), mean cell size (decreasing with temperature) and on the share of microplankton diatoms (decreasing with temperature). All these changes will lead to poorer feeding conditions for copepod zooplankton and, thus, to a less efficient energy transfer from primary to fish production under a warmer climate.