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The extent and volume of the Arctic Sea ice has declined rapidly since global data became available in 1980, especially in summer. Record low sea ice cover in September 2007, 2011 and 2012 was roughly half the size of the normal minimum extent in the 1980s. September ice cover has somewhat recovered in 2013 and 2014 but it was still well below the average for 1981-2010.
Over the period 1979–2014, the Arctic has lost on average 42 000 km 2 of sea ice per year in winter and 91 000 km 2 per year at the end of summer. The decline in summer sea ice appears to have accelerated since 1999.
The maximum sea ice extent in the Baltic Sea has been decreasing most of the time since about 1800. The decrease appears to have accelerated since the 1980s but the large interannual variability prohibits a clear assessment as to whether this increase is statistically significant.
Arctic Sea ice is projected to continue to shrink and thin all year round. For high greenhouse gas emissions, a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in September is likely before mid-century. There will still be substantial ice in winter.
Baltic Sea ice, in particular the extent of the maximal cover, is projected to continue to shrink.
Global mean sea level (GMSL) has risen by 19 cm from 1901 to 2013 at an average rate of 1.7 mm/year. There has been significant decadal variation of the rate of increase but an acceleration is detectable over this period. The rate of sea level rise over the last two decades, when satellite measurements have been available, is higher at 3.2 mm/year.
Most coastal regions in Europe have experienced an increase in absolute sea level as well as in sea level relative to land, but there is significant regional variation.
Extreme high coastal water levels have increased at many locations around the European coastline. This increase appears to be predominantly due to increases in mean local sea level at most locations rather than to changes in storm activity.
GMSL rise during the 21st century will very likely occur at a higher rate than during 1971–2010. Process-based models project a rise in 2081–2100, compared to 1986–2005, that is likely to be in the range 0.26–0.54 m for a low emissions scenario (RCP2.6) and 0.45–0.81 m for a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5). Projections of GMSL rise from semi-empirical models are up to twice as large as from process-based models, but there is low confidence in their projections.
Available process-based models indicate GMSL rise by 2300 to be less than 1 m for greenhouse gas concentrations that peak and decline and do not exceed 500 ppm CO2-equivalent but 1 m to more than 3 m for concentrations above 700 ppm CO2-equivalent. However, these models are likely to systematically underestimate the sea level contribution from Antarctica. The multi-millennial sea level commitment is estimated at 1–3 m GMSL rise per degree of warming.
The rise in sea level relative to land at European coasts is projected to be similar to the global average, with the exception of the northern Baltic Sea and the northern Atlantic coast, which are experiencing considerable land rise as a consequence of post-glacial rebound.
Projected increases in extreme high coastal water levels in Europe will likely be dominated by increases in local relative mean sea level, with changes in the meteorologically-driven surge component being less important at most locations.
The warming of the World Ocean accounts for approximately 93 % of the warming of the Earth system during the last six decades. Warming of the upper (0–700 m) ocean accounted for about 64% of the total heat uptake.
An increasing trend in the heat content in the uppermost 700 m depth of the World Ocean is evident over the last six decades. Recent observations show substantial warming also of the deeper ocean (between 700 m and 2 000 m depth and below 3000 m depth).
Further warming of the oceans is expected with projected climate change. The amount of warming is strongly dependent on the emissions scenario.
Surface-ocean pH has declined from 8.2 to below 8.1 over the industrial era due to the growth of atmospheric CO 2 concentrations. This decline corresponds to an increase in oceanic acidity of 26%.
Observed reductions in surface-water pH are nearly identical across the global ocean and throughout Europe’s seas.
Ocean acidification in recent decades is occurring a hundred times faster than during past natural events over the last 55 million years.
Ocean acidification already reaches into the deep ocean, particularly in the high latitudes.
Models consistently project further ocean acidification worldwide. Surface ocean pH is projected to decrease to values between 8.05 and 7.75 by the end of 21 st century depending on future CO 2 emission levels. The largest projected decline represents more than a doubling in acidity.
Ocean acidification may affect many marine organisms within the next 20 years and could alter marine ecosystems and fisheries.
Sea surface temperature in European seas has been increasing in the past century at a faster rate than the global ocean.
The rate of increase in sea surface temperature in all European seas during the past 25 years is the largest ever measured in any 25-year period. It has been several times faster than the average rate of increase during the past century, and it is also much faster than the global ocean.
Globally averaged sea surface temperature is projected to continue to increase although more slowly than atmospheric temperature.
In 2010, the highest concentrations of oxidized nitrogen were found in the Baltic Sea, in the Gulf of Riga and Kiel Bay, and in Belgian, Dutch and German coastal waters in the Greater North Sea. Reported stations in the Northern Spanish and Croatian coastal waters also showed high concentration levels. The highest orthophosphate concentrations were found in the Baltic Sea, in the Gulf of Riga and Kiel Bay, and in Irish, Belgian, Dutch and German coastal waters in the Greater North Sea. Coastal stations along Northern Spain and Southern France also showed high concentration levels.
Between 1985 and 2010, overall nutrient concentrations have been either stable or decreasing in stations reported to the EEA in the Greater North Sea, Celtic Seas and in the Baltic Sea. However, this decrease has been more pronounced for nitrogen. Assessments for the overall Mediterranean and Black Sea regions were not possible, data only being available for stations in France and Croatia.
For oxidized nitrogen concentrations, 14% of all the reported stations showed decreasing trends, whereas only 2% showed increasing trends. Decreases were most evident in the Baltic Sea (coastal waters of Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, and open waters) and in southern part of the coast of the Greater North Sea. Increasing trends were mainly found in Croatian coastal stations.
For orthophosphate concentrations, 10% of all the reported stations showed a decrease. This was most evident in coastal and open water stations in the Greater North Sea, and in coastal stations in the Baltic Sea. Increasing orthophosphate trends, observed in 6% of the reported stations, were mainly detected in Irish, Danish and Finnish coastal waters (Gulf of Finland and Gulf of Bothnia) and in open waters of the Baltic Proper.
In 2010, the highest summer chlorophyll-a concentrations were observed in coastal areas and estuaries where nutrient concentrations are also generally high (see CSI 021 Nutrients in transitional, coastal and marine waters). These include the Gulf of Riga, Gulf of Gdansk, Gulf of Finland and along the German coast in the Baltic Sea, coastal areas in Belgium and The Netherlands in the Greater North Sea and in few locations along the coast of Ireland and France in the Celtic Seas and Bay of Biscay, respectively. High chlorophyll concentrations were also observed along the Gulf of Lions and in Montenegro coastal waters in the Mediterranean Sea, and along Romanian coastal waters in the Black Sea. Low summer chlorophyll concentrations were mainly observed in the Kattegat and open sea stations in the Greater North Sea, and in open sea stations in southern Baltic Sea.
Between 1985 to 2010, decreasing chlorophyll concentrations (showed in 8% of all the stations in the European seas reported to the EEA) were predominantly found along the southern coast of the Greater North Sea, along the Finnish coast in the Bothnian Bay in the Baltic Sea and in a few stations in the Western Mediterranean Sea and Adriatic Sea. In the Black Sea, it was not possible to make an overall assessment due to the lack of time series data. Increasing concentrations (observed in 5% of the reported stations) were generally observed in coastal locations in the Northern Baltic Sea but also in the open sea stations outside the north of the Celtic Seas. Most stations (87%) however showed no changes over time.
The concentrations were generally Low or Moderate for HCB and lindane, Moderate for cadmium, mercury and lead, and Moderate or High for PCB and DDT. A general downward trend was found in the Northeast Atlantic for lead, lindane, PCB and DDT and also in the Baltic Sea and Mediterranean Sea for lindane. A general upward trend was found in the Mediterranean Sea for mercury and lead.
Increases in regional sea temperatures have triggered a major northward expansion of warmer-water plankton in the North-east Atlantic and a northward retreat of colder-water plankton. This northerly movement is about 10 ° latitude (1 100 km) over the past 40 years, and it seems to have accelerated since 2000.
Sub-tropical species are occurring with increasing frequency in European waters, and sub-Arctic species are receding northwards.
Further changes in the distribution of marine species are expected, with projected further climate change, but quantitative projections are not available.
The quality of water at designated bathing waters in Europe (coastal and inland) has improved significantly since 1990.
Compliance with mandatory values in EU coastal bathing waters increased from just below 80 % in 1990 to 93.1 % in 2011. Compliance with guide values likewise rose from over 68 % to 80.1 % in 2011.
Compliance with mandatory values in EU inland bathing waters increased from over 52 % in 1990 to 89.9 % in 2011. Similarly, the rate of compliance with guide values moved from over 36 % in 1990 to 70.4 % in 2011.
Most of the EU commercial catch is currently taken from stocks that are assessed. There is, however, a clear trend from north to south: almost all catches in the north come from assessed stocks, whereas in the south this only happens for around half of the catch.
Of the assessed commercial stocks in the NE Atlantic, about one third is outside safe biological limits. In the Mediterranean, about half of the assessed stocks are fished outside safe biological limits. In the Black Sea no stocks are assessed.
The overall size and capacity (power and tonnage) of the European fishing fleets continues to follow a downward trend in all countries groups – EU15, EFTA, EU7, and Bulgaria and Romania. There are still however important issues concerning data availability and quality that need to be overcome to allow for a more robust assessment, especially for the Member States who have most recently joined the EU.
The average size of vessels seems to be increasing in EU15 and EFTA, whereas in EU7 and in Bulgaria and Romania there seems to be a downward trend.
The increase in the average size of vessels in the main European fishing fleets, i.e. EU15 and EFTA, possibly indicates a shift towards trawlers and purse seines, which are usually larger than vessels using passive gear and hence exert a greater fishing pressure. Also, other parameters such as technological developments, type of fishing gear and level of activity should be included in the analysis of fleet capacity to more accurately assess the effective fishing capacity of the European fishing fleet.
European aquaculture production has continued to rapidly increase during the past 15 years due to the expansion of marine production. EU 15 and EFTA countries dominate EU’s aquaculture production, where Norway accounted for nearly 40% of the total European production in 2008, followed by Spain, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. Turkey is the most important producer in the EU7 + EU2 + others, having increased its output by nearly 200% from 2001 to 2008.
The major increase in aquaculture production has been in marine salmon culture in northwest Europe and, to a lesser extent, trout culture throughout western Europe and Turkey.
Aquaculture production intensity, as measured per kilometre of coastline length, is two times higher in EU 15 + EFTA countries compared with EU7 + EU2 + other countries. This intensity is likely to continue to rise as marine aquaculture production increases, particularly since the culture of new species, such as cod, halibut and turbot, is becoming more viable. This increase represents a rise in pressure on adjacent water bodies and associated ecosystems, resulting mainly from nutrient release from aquaculture facilities. The precise level of local impact will mainly vary according to species, production techniques and local natural characteristics.
Temperature increases in the ocean have caused many marine organisms in European seas to appear earlier in their seasonal cycles than in the past. For example, some species have moved forward in their seasonal cycle by 4-6 weeks. Changes in the timing of seasonal cycles have important consequences for the way organisms within an ecosystem interact and ultimately for the structure of marine food-webs at all trophic levels. The consequences include: - increased vulnerability of North Sea cod stocks to over-fishing; - decline in seabird populations. Marine species may be able to adapt genetically to changed conditions. However, with the current pace of climate warming this may be hampered because genetic changes require several reproductive cycles to occur.
This indicator is no longer being regularly updated
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
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.
PDF generated on 01 Feb 2015, 06:02 PM
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