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Forecasting the Future of the Baltic
December 1, 2014   
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Polish researchers have created a numerical model that aims to evaluate the impact of climate change on the marine ecosystem. Their research findings are important not only for environmentalists, but also for vacationers and local government institutions.

Maciej Janecki from the Marine Ecohydrodynamics Laboratory at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oceanology in the coastal city of Sopot, says the model can help predict phenomena such as cold currents and outbreaks of harmful algae on the Baltic Sea.

Sometimes Baltic beaches in Poland have to be closed due to the spread of algae, especially cyanobacteria. Tourists and vacationers are also troubled by so-called upwellings, or winds that move layers of warm water out into the sea and instead bring in ice-cold water—usually rich in substances that enhance the growth of microscopic plant-like organisms called phytoplankton.

The mathematical models being developed at the Institute of Oceanology will make it possible to predict such conditions on the Baltic and issue warnings.

“My modeling research will show a broader picture of what’s going to happen in the context of climate change,” says Janecki. “I use different scenarios for temperature and radiation growth. Local governments will thus be provided with information about where the beaches will be exposed to hazardous conditions, from algal bloom to upwellings.”

This summer, the water temperature around the Hel Peninsula on the Baltic Sea in northern Poland was 22 degrees Celsius, while in the nearby town of Władysławowo it did not exceed 12 degrees for a week. Vacationers could not understand how it was possible that despite hot weather the water was so cold. The main culprit was the wind. Such climatic effects can be predicted using mathematical models, Janecki says.

Algae bloom in both warm and cool water. Some varieties of phytoplankton bloom even under the ice. Algal bloom in the Baltic Sea begins around March, when the water temperature exceeds 5-6 degrees Celsius.

The amount of fertilizers found in water reaching the Baltic from Polish rivers is increasing. “This is due to the use of fertilizers in agriculture and wastewater from factories. Biogenic substances reach the Baltic together with sewage. If a computer model is used to predict the consequences of this in the next 20 or even 50 years, it will make it possible to create environmental action plans for selected regions,” says Janecki.

The institute’s model takes into account data such as average temperature and the concentration of selected biogenic substances as well as the content of a green pigment called chlorophyll. Mathematical equations in the computer program make it possible to describe phenomena taking place in the sea—for example, primary production of phytoplankton, Janecki says. He adds that the model must take into account calculations from several years ago in order to make predictions for several years ahead.

The Institute of Oceanology currently produces 48-hour forecasts for the Baltic Sea on a regular basis using the so-called Coupled Ecosystem Model of the Baltic Sea (3D-CEMBS).

The researchers obtain raw data that they convert into user-friendly maps. Anyone who clicks on a selected area will get a map with information about the temperature and concentration of biogenic substances. Biologists help interpret this data by indicating what biological parameters—the concentration of chlorophyll or phytoplankton biomass—exceed danger levels. A new map appears on the institute’s website every six hours.

Karolina Olszewska
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