2022 May/24

Research for Society

Indicators of climate change in the Baltic Sea region

Our planet Earth is going through an accelerated process of global warming in the 21st century because of the accumulation of a series of gases in the atmosphere generated by human activity. Natural landscapes are rapidly being replaced by urbanized areas and growing industrial activities. Large conglomerates of urbanized territories become “heat islands,” which affect and change not only the local but also the macroclimate. The Earth’s climate is constantly changing. It is characterized by cyclical fluctuations caused by geophysical and astronomical factors. Unfortunately, there is concern about the faster-than-usual warming that began according to all-natural indicator readings at the end of the 20th century.

Climate change indicators help identify how the climate is changing in different areas. Understanding and managing climate change processes is an important task not only at the global level but also at the level of various regions and countries. In 1988 the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which now is the United Nations body for assessing the result of science research related to climate change. IPCC provides the world community with the most up-to-date and comprehensive scientific, technical, and socio-economic information about climate change. Scientists and communication specialists have identified global Climate Indicators in a discursive process led by Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and have been endorsed by WMO. These headline indicators comprise key information for the most relevant domains of climate change: temperature, energy balance, atmospheric composition, ocean, and land water as well as the cryosphere. Nevertheless, a set of subsidiary indicators providing additional information are needed for a more detailed picture of the changes in the respective region. Understanding and managing the climate change processes is an important task not only at the global level but also at the level of various regions and countries. As in other parts of the world, research on climate change is now a major interest in Europe, including the Baltic Sea region. The EU seas are getting warmer and especially the Baltic Sea.

The Baltic Sea is a young semi-enclosed intra-continental shallow sea with a specific environment uniqueness due to its special geographical, climatological, and oceanographic characteristics. Unfortunately, its uniqueness also contributes to its faster increase in eutrophication due to climate change and increasing anthropogenic pressures. The Baltic Sea in Northern Europe is surrounded by nine economically developed countries: Denmark, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland, and Sweden. The basin (drainage area) of the Baltic Sea is inhabited by around 85 million people. Regional monitoring and assessment of the Baltic Sea are one of the core tasks for the inter-governmental Helsinki Commission (HELCOM). It is aiming to maintain good ecosystem health, including adaptation and management of climate change, and regional collaboration. Baltic scientists are collaborating to investigate the effects of climate change in the Baltic Sea region. For instance, as Baltic Earth is one of the scientific networks that strive to achieve an improved Earth System understanding of the Baltic Sea region as the basis for science-based management in the face of climatic, environmental, and human impact in the region. The joint HELCOM/Baltic Earth Expert Network involves more than 110 scientists from around the Baltic Sea. Climate change impacts are evident in the Baltic Sea: air and water temperature rising, sea level increasing, ice extent is decreasing, change heat and water balance, intensification of the extreme storm events, change of atmospheric dynamic, wind and waves regime, rise sea eutrophication. Specific warming „jump” observed in all physical parameters started in the 8-9th decade of the 20th century. Baltic Earth group scientists future scenarios for the Baltic Sea show that by the end of this 21st century, sea surface temperature in the Baltic Sea is expected to increase by between 1.1°C (RCP2.6) and 3,2°C (RCP8.5), and air temperature – by 1.5°C (RCVP 2.6), compared to the period 1970-1999, if the Paris agreement is fulfilled, and 4.5°C in a worst-case scenario (RCP 8.5). All these changes affect the nature of the sea, its ecosystems, and ecosystem services, as well as the human activities depending on the sea.

Is global warming of 1°C significant and noticeable? How much does one degree add to the tremendous changes in the Earth’s ecosystems? For instance, during the last ice age (about 20,000 years ago), the average temperature of the Earth’s air was around 10°C. Currently, the temperature of the Earth is close to 15°C. Huge changes await us if, according to pessimistic forecasts, air temperatures rise by more than 2°C degrees in the 21st century.

We cannot change the climate, but we may adapt. Climate change issues are of major importance in the modern world and these problems are to be monitored and examined on the global and national level involving national organizations, business and industry, research institutions, including the different education levels. Developing innovative technology and life-long learning of society improving understanding about climate change and smart innovation integration are the most important changes to accomplish this.

In Lithuania, as in the rest of the world, great attention is paid to climate change. Klaipeda Seaport City is an example of how it can combine the municipal and Klaipeda University efforts to combat climate change and work with stakeholders, IT, economy, and industry sectors. Sustainable Blue economic, “Green” seaport, ambitions joint to Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities Mission, development of the region, Good practices for Sustainable development Coastal areas – is a priority connected with climate change and sustainable innovations. Klaipeda University – a hub of excellence in Smart Urban Coastal Sustainability, through Cooperation, Education, innovation of Blue Economy and Green Course.

Science, like never before, has every opportunity to help bring in researchers from all fields, to innovate, to help the economy develop sustainably, and to implement the principles of the circular economy. The blue and green economy is the guarantor of a common, sustainable future for humanity and nature. It gives us a new opportunity to adapt to living in harmony and sustainability with nature, and protect our only home yet, the blue planet Earth.

Professor of Physical Geography, Oceanography, Climatology Sciences
Marine Research Institute, Health Research and Innovation Science Center,
Klaipeda University
Lithuania