Effects of Climate Change and North Atlantic Oscillation on Arctic Ice Melting and the North Atlantic Marine Ecosystem

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Curtis Burney

Second Advisor

Edward Keith


Climate change happens naturally and the earth has been cooling and warming since it was formed. These climate changes have a direct impact on the physical makeup of the marine environment which in turn has a major impact on the ecosystems of the world’s oceans. The Arctic Ocean has a major influence on the North Atlantic Ocean and the formation and melting of ice sheets in the Arctic effect the North Atlantic Ocean in a number of ways. The Arctic Ocean is currently in a warming period causing ice sheets to melt. Melting ice sheets can affect the salinity, temperature, and ocean circulation of the Arctic Ocean as well as the North Atlantic Ocean. These physical changes in the ocean waters affect the ecological makeup of the area. Zooplankton and fish distribution and abundance are affected by the physical factors influenced by climate change. Regime changes in both the Northeast and Northwest Atlantic Ocean have been observed in the recent past and have been connected with physical factors in the marine environment directly influenced by changes in climate.

The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is a way of measuring areas of high and low wintertime surface pressure at two different points in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Icelandic Low pressure system in the north and the Azores High pressure system in the south. The NAO varies decade to decade and sometimes changes yearly. It effects the wind and water movement in the North Atlantic Ocean and has an inverse effect from the Northwest to Northeast Atlantic Ocean. It is a major influence on the physical makeup of the marine environment in the North Atlantic Ocean as well as the ecosystem in the area. Depending on the pressures at each location, the NAO alternates between positive and negative periods. These positive and negative periods have associated climactic responses that have been observed and documented for well over a century. When the NOAI is in a positive phase there is strong wind circulation from the Northwest in the North Atlantic, high atmospheric and sea temperatures in currents off the western coast of Europe and low temperatures along the east coast of Canada. Different environmental responses are experienced in the Northeast and Northwest Atlantic in response to the NAO and have a direct influence and impact on the marine ecosystem in the areas. The study and understanding of these environmental responses can lead to an ability to predict the marine ecosystems response as the NAO varies.

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