The Relative Importance of Phytoplankton Light Absorption and Ecosystem Complexity in an Earth System Model

Asselot, Rémy; Lunkeit, Frank; Holden, Philip B. and Hense, Inga (2021). The Relative Importance of Phytoplankton Light Absorption and Ecosystem Complexity in an Earth System Model. Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems, 13(5), article no. e2020MS002110.



We investigate the relative importance of ecosystem complexity and phytoplankton light absorption for climate studies. While the complexity of Earth System models (ESMs) with respect to marine biota has increased over the past years, the relative importance of biological processes in driving climate-relevant mechanisms such as the biological carbon pump and phytoplankton light absorption is still unknown. The climate effects of these mechanisms have been studied separately, but not together. To shed light on the role of biologically mediated feedbacks, we performed different model experiments with the EcoGENIE ESM. The model experiments have been conducted with and without phytoplankton light absorption and with two or 12 plankton functional types. For a robust comparison, all simulations are tuned to have the same primary production. Our model experiments show that phytoplankton light absorption changes ocean physics and biogeochemistry. Higher sea surface temperature decreases the solubility of CO2 which in turn increases the atmospheric CO2 concentration, and finally the atmospheric temperature rises by 0.45°C. An increase in ecosystem complexity increases the export production of particulate organic carbon but decreases the amount of dissolved organic matter. These changes in
the marine carbon cycling, however, hardly reduces the atmospheric CO2 concentrations and slightly decreases the atmospheric temperature by 0.034°C. Overall we show that phytoplankton light absorption has a higher impact on the carbon cycle and on the climate system than a more detailed representation of the marine biota.

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