Salinity dynamics of the Baltic Sea


In the Baltic Sea, salinity and its large variability, both horizontal and vertical, are key physical factors in determining the overall stratification conditions. In addition to that, salinity and its changes also have large effects on various ecosystem processes. Several factors determine the observed two-layer vertical structure of salinity. Due to the excess of river runoff to the sea, there is a continuous outflow of water masses in the surface layer with a compensating inflow to the Baltic in the lower layer. Also, the net precipitation plays a role in the water balance and consequently in the salinity dynamics. The salinity conditions in the sea are also coupled with changes in the meteorological conditions. The ecosystem is adapted to the current salinity level: a change in the salinity balance would lead to ecological stress for flora and fauna, as well as related negative effects on possibilities to carry on sustainable development of the ecosystem. The Baltic Sea salinity regime has been studied for more than 100 years. In spite of that, there are still gaps in our knowledge of the changes in salinity in space and time. An important part of our understanding of salinity is its long-term changes. However, the available scenarios for the future development of salinity are still uncertain. We still need more studies on various factors related to the salinity dynamics. Among others, more knowledge is needed, e.g., from meteorological patterns at various space scales and timescales as well as mesoscale variability in precipitation. Also, updated information on river runoff and inflows of saline water is needed to close the water budget. We still do not understand the water mass exchange accurately enough between North Sea and Baltic Sea and within its sub-basins. Scientific investigations of the complicated vertical mixing processes are additionally required. This paper is a continuation and update of the BACC (Baltic Assessment of Climate Change for the Baltic Sea Region) II book, which was published in 2015, including information from articles issued until 2012. After that, there have been many new publications on the salinity dynamics, not least because of the major Baltic inflow (MBI) which took place in December 2014. Several key topics have been investigated, including the coupling of long-term variations of climate with the observed salinity changes. Here the focus is on observing and indicating the role of climate change for salinity dynamics. New results on MBI dynamics and related water mass interchange between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea have been published. Those studies also included results from the MBI-related meteorological conditions, variability in salinity, and exchange of water masses between various scales. All these processes are in turn coupled with changes in the Baltic Sea circulation dynamics.