Subpolar gyre and temperature drive boreal fish abundance in Greenland waters

Søren Post, Karl Michael Werner, Ismael Núñez‐Riboni, Léon Chafik, Hjálmar Hátún, Teunis Jansen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As result of ocean warming, marine boreal species have shifted their distribution poleward, with increases in abundance at higher latitudes, and declines in abundance at lower latitudes. A key to predict future changes in fish communities is to understand how fish stocks respond to climate variability. Scattered field observations in the first half of the 20th century suggested that boreal fish may coherently invade Greenland waters when temperatures rise, but this hypothesis has remained untested. Therefore, we studied how local temperature variability and the dynamics of the subpolar gyre, a large-scale driver of oceanic conditions in the North Atlantic, affect abundance of boreal fishes in a region that sharply defines their lower thermal boundary. We analysed information from demersal trawl surveys from 1981 to 2017, for species distributed from shallow shelf to depths of 1,500 m, collected at over 10,000 stations along ~3,000 km of Greenland. Our results show that local temperature and variability of Labrador and Irminger Sea water in the subpolar gyre region drive interdecadal variability of boreal fish abundance in Greenland waters. Although temperature fluctuations were higher in shallow than deep regions, fish abundance changed as quickly in great depths as in shallow depths. This link between physics and biology provides an opportunity for prediction of future trends, which is of utility in Greenland, where fisheries constitute more than 90% of the national export value.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-174
Number of pages13
JournalFish and Fisheries
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2021


  • environmental drivers
  • GAM
  • Irminger–Labrador Seas
  • lagged response
  • trawl survey
  • water density


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