Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
Phenology is the study of annually recurring life-cycle events such as the timing of migrations and flowering of plants. In the marine environment such phenology indicators would include the timing of the spring phytoplankton bloom and the peak in the abundance of other marine organisms such as the earlier appearance of dinoflagellates associated with summer stratified conditions. Change in phenology is one of the key indicators of the impacts of climate change on biological populations. Because marine species have different sensitivities to changes in temperature, these changes may lead to large shifts in the marine food web that can ultimately affect the food available to fish, birds or marine mammals.
In the North Sea, many species are appearing earlier in their normal seasonal cycles while others are not. This has led to a decoupling of species relationships and changes in food-web structures (Edwards and Richardson, 2004). Such changes in plankton have been strongly implicated in worsening the decline in North Sea cod stocks, caused initially by over-fishing (Beaugrand et al., 2003), and have contributed to changing other fish populations (sand-eels) that are an essential food source for seabirds (Frederiksen et al., 2006).
The southern North Sea has been identified as being particular vulnerable to phenology changes (Edwards, Woo and Richardson, in prep.). Phenology changes have been related to the degree and speed of regional climate change. For example, the southern North Sea is warming faster than other regions in the North East Atlantic and is where phenological movement has been much more pronounced.
- References Beugrand, G.; Brandner, K. M.; Lindley, J. A.; Souissi, S.; Reid, P. C., 2003. Plankton effect on cod recruitment in the North Sea. Nature 426: 661-664. Edwards M. and Richardson A. J., 2004. Impact of climate change on marine pelagic phenology and trophic mismatch. Nature 430: 881-884. Edwards, M.; Reid P. C. and Planque, B., 2001. Long-term and regional variability of phytoplankton biomass in the Northeast Atlantic (1960-1995). ICES Journal of Marine Science 58: 39-49. Edwards, M.; Woo, J. and Richardson, A. J. (in preparation). Spatial variability in marine pelagic phenology. Frankignoul, C. and Kestenare, E., 2005. Observed Atlantic SST Anomaly Impact on the NAO: An update. Journal of Climate 18: 4089-4094. Frederiksen, M.; Edwards, M.; Richardson, A. J.; Halliday, N. C.; Wanless, S., 2006. From plankton to top predators: bottom-up control of a marine food web across four trophic levels. Journal of Animal Ecology 75: 1259-1268. Lindley, J. A., 1987. Continuous Plankton Records: the geographical distributions and seasonal cycles of decapod crustacean larvae and pelagic post-larvae in the North-eastern Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, 1981-83. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 67: 145-150. Reid, P. C.; Edwards, M.; Hunt, H .G. and Warner, A. J., 1998. Phytoplankton change in the North Atlantic. Nature 391: 546.
- Decapod abundance in the central North Sea 1950-2005
- Change in colour index in southern North Sea from the 1950s until 2000s
Policy context and targets
In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to increase the resilience to climate change of health, property and the productive functions of land, inter alia by improving the management of water resources and ecosystems. More knowledge is needed on climate impact and vulnerability but a considerable amount of information and research already exists which can be shared better through a proposed Clearing House Mechanism. The White Paper stresses the need to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. A number of Member States have already taken action and several have prepared national adaptation plans. The EU is also developing actions to enhance and finance adaptation in developing countries as part of a new post-2012 global climate agreement expected in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009). For more information see: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/climat/adaptation/index_en.htm
No targets have been specified
Related policy documents
No related policy documents have been specified
Key policy question
Methodology for indicator calculation
Methodology for gap filling
No methodology references available.
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
External data references
- HadISST1 - Global sea ice and Sea Surface Temperature analyses
- Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey
Data sources in latest figures
Data sets uncertainty
No uncertainty has been specified
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoTrine Christiansen
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
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This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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