Deep demersal fish communities respond rapidly to warming in a frontal region between Arctic and Atlantic waters

Margrete Emblemsvåg*, Karl Michael Werner, Ismael Núñez-Riboni, Romain Frelat, Helle Torp Christensen, Heino O. Fock, Raul Primicerio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The assessment of climate impact on marine communities dwelling deeper than the well-studied shelf seas has been hampered by the lack of long-term data. For a long time, the prevailing expectation has been that thermal stability in deep ocean layers will delay ecosystem responses to warming. Few observational studies have challenged this view and indicated that deep organisms can respond exceptionally fast to physical change at the sea surface. To address the depth-specific impact of climate change, we investigated spatio-temporal changes in fish community structure along a bathymetry gradient of 150–1500 m between 1998 and 2016 in East Greenland. Here, the Arctic East Greenland Current and the Atlantic Irminger Current meet and mix, representing a sub-Arctic transition zone. We found the strongest signals of community reorganizations at depths between 350 and 1000 m and only weak responses in the shallowest and deepest regions. Changes were in synchrony with atmospheric warming, loss in sea ice and variability in physical sea surface conditions both within our study region and North of the Denmark Strait. These results suggest that interannual variability and long-term climate trends of the larger ecoregion can rapidly affect fish communities down to 1000-m depth through atmospheric ocean coupling and food web interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2979-2990
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number9
Early online date23 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • Arctic
  • Atlantification
  • borealization
  • deep sea
  • East Greenland
  • ecosystem change
  • fish communities
  • fisheries


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